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Get on with it!

Slow on the uptake: Jason Hayward, the Minister of Economy and Labour (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

“If you are honest, you cannot deny any of these connected primary problems. Each problem is real. Each is quantified. Separately and together, they are slamming us now by damaging our economy, and consequentially causing job losses and reducing job opportunities for all Bermudians. These losses of jobs and job opportunities have negative social consequences. You may disagree with the fix. That’s fine, but now you must find another workable and real-time solution.”

— Larry Burchall (Bermuda Sun, October 17, 2012)

When I found Larry Burchall’s column, “Our three big problems — and how to fix them”, three key things struck me.

First, Mr Burchall was issuing warnings and suggesting solutions in very plain language. He broke down the problems and provided the simple maths that spelt out Bermuda’s coming population crisis.

Second, nearly 12 years have passed and Bermuda has yet to get its act together on fixing the crisis.

Third, and most important of all, Mr Burchall writes that it’s fine if you disagree with his proposed solutions to the population crisis — as long as you quickly come up with your own!

Timing is critical. It took the Progressive Labour Party five years to admit that we actually had a population problem. In September 2022, Jason Hayward, the Minister of Economy and Labour, released a position paper called Addressing the Challenge of an Ageing Population in Bermuda. In this document, the minister states that the Government has decided to increase Bermuda’s population by 8,418 over the next five years.

It took the PLP six years to come up with a strategy, at least in name, to strengthen the economy. In June 2023, Mr Hayward announced the release of the Government’s Economic Development Strategy. Despite being some 60 pages long, it’s not much more than a regurgitation of things that have been repeatedly stated by Mr Burchall, the One Bermuda Alliance and others since 2012.

The biggest indicator that we still don’t really have a plan is that the PLP rarely mentions these two documents when it has the chance to promote them. It isn’t telling us how much progress it has made towards those 8,418 new workers. It isn’t telling us what progress it has made with its economic development strategy, either. Instead, it has been spending all of its energy pounding the public with anti-OBA rhetoric. Here are some examples in 2024:

1, January 30, Chris Famous asked:

“Since 2017 the OBA denied they wanted to give out status. Over the last few months, [Michael] Fahy resurfaced and every month he is talking about giving out status. Anyone involved in politics knows this is no mere coincidence that now the OBA are bringing this back up. Ask yourselves why were they denying up until this point?”

Well, that’s an interesting conspiracy theory ... Every OBA Reply to the Throne Speech given since 2017 contains an explicit or implicit statement that supports a pathway to status. What denial is he referring to?

2, February 2, Chris Famous asked:

“One wonders exactly which polling data did the OBA gain that told it granting status is the wish of the majority of the Bermudian electorate? Or was it Michael Fahy wielding his influence once again?”

Actually, one doesn’t have to wonder at all. On pages 39, 40 and 41 of the Pathways To Status presentation, you will find the three scientific polls the OBA used to support its position. The Profiles of Bermuda survey conducted in 2015 showed 69.5 per cent support for granting status to persons who have been here for 25 years. On pages 42 and 43 you will find references to unscientific polls — online surveys — showing 74 per cent support for the Government’s immigration plans.

3, February 2, Lindsay Simmons claimed:

“In the lead-up to the 2012 election, the OBA promised to reform and not scrap term limits on work permits.”

That’s not quite right. The OBA’s platform clearly states that it will suspend term limits for two years. Without question, suspending is not scrapping. I would also totally agree that the OBA made the decision far too fast after the General Election. At the least, the OBA should have waited for the union representatives to reply to the ministry’s January 23 proposal before making a decision on January 30.

Nevertheless, the senator’s claim of broken promises is not exactly an honest retelling of events. It’s also a bit rich from a party that promised to deliver comprehensive immigration reform and still has not done so seven years later.

In addition to the above examples, several other PLP advocates have been claiming recently that the OBA would “open up the floodgates” to foreigners by granting status — this although the OBA’s pathways proposal was for granting status after 20 years!

Floodgates? What flood, given the 20-year requirement?

You don’t have to take my word for any of the above. I found all the documents and news reports online. With the help of Google, you, too, can read them for yourself. Do so, and you will quickly conclude that we are being subjected to non-stop political rhetoric instead of updates on workable, real-time solutions that the PLP should have been working on since 2017.

With a 30-6 supermajority, the PLP has the ability to track emigration, address structural unemployment and set up a work-permit system that it believes makes us competitive. It also has the ability to carry out a full socioeconomic impact study on the granting of status so that the pros and cons of various alternatives can be fully evaluated.

Despite having all of this power, the PLP has proudly refused to even contemplate granting status. But why refuse to even contemplate it if there was some possibility that it could help Bermuda be more competitive against competing jurisdictions?

Here’s one possible reason why: the 2015 survey says that 69.5 per cent of people are in support of granting status after 25 years. However, it also says that 24.8 per cent are opposed to status grants even after 25 years —basically, never.

If keeping the political support of that 24.8 per cent means changing immigration as slowly as possible from one election to the next, then you wait five years to admit that we even have a population problem.

If keeping the political support of that 24.8 per cent of the electorate means never offering status under any circumstances, then you don’t carry out an impact study on the issue. Also, you don’t track and report the rate of Bermudian emigration.

Instead of fixing the issue by doing what’s best for Bermuda’s long-term survival, you make the short-term, politically expedient decision to show the 24.8 per cent that, unlike the OBA, the PLP will leave status alone.

This is how you keep the party in power, even if it is to Bermuda’s detriment.

• Bryant Trew can be contacted via e-mail at bryanttrew@mac.com

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Published February 12, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated February 12, 2024 at 11:50 am)

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