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The shifting grounds of airport opposition

Here's something about the deal to build a new airport you may not have noticed before: if the Combined Opposition get an answer they can't deny to one issue, they move on to another.

Take the question of whether Bermuda needs a new airport. The Progressive Labour Party never really got into that, because they knew they themselves wanted to replace the airport, spending some $3 million on plans to do so. But Opposition supporters, like the People's Campaign, and columnists like Christopher Famous, questioned the need for an airport in a big way.

They were stopped in their tracks by the CITV television programme in which problems with the terminal were graphically and powerfully explained. The opposition's claim was proved wrong. Oh, OK. On to the next issue.

In 2014, when finance minister Richards announced the new airport, the Opposition's focus was on whether the Canadian Commercial Corporation was legitimate or not. Progressive Labour Party MP Lawrence Scott spoke about a story published, in Trinidad and Tobago's Guardian newspaper.

“It seems as though we just had a Government official sign an untendered, secret contract with this same company that is being charged with and has a reputation of corruption, bribery,” he said in the House of Assembly, “and I do not want to go any further than just the fact that it has been reported that they bribed government officials.”

He didn't seem to know much about CCC, which is a Canadian Government agency that simply matches buyer with seller. When he was told that the newspaper was referring to one of the thousands of companies that CCC had dealt with, not CCC itself, that seam of objection was quickly abandoned.

The opposition's claim was proved wrong. Oh, Ok. On to the next issue.

Mr Scott is apparently not one to stop flogging until he is certain the horse is dead, because with nearly his next breath, he said: “Given that the courts in half a dozen countries have convicted politicians who have recently received bribes for receiving funds from a Canadian company, is the Dunkley Administration concerned about offering contracts to Canadian companies operating in Bermuda?”

The finance minister, ET Bob Richards, set him straight: “What are we going to do, say that the whole of Canada is corrupt because they saw an article in a newspaper?”

Oh, Ok. On to the next issue.

Mr David Burt, the shadow finance minister, focused on the loss of Government revenue he said the deal represented, saying we were giving away a billion dollars. Mr Richards explained that: “We certainly will be earmarking revenues of the Government to pay for the airport. There is no question about that … If you buy a car, are you giving away your money to the car dealer? No! You are paying for something and you are getting the car in return … Mr Speaker, this thing about a billion dollars is sheer nonsense!”

That exchange was in the House of Assembly in 2014. The oft-derided billion-dollar figure is still used by various Combined Opposition figures, presumably because until the deal is finalised, exactly how much it will cost is not known. Meantime, on to the next issue.

Then there's the question of whether the deal with CCC/Aecon amounts to privatising the airport. This is the way Mr Burt introduced that idea in the House: “It is an attitude that will see our number one, prime asset — the Bermuda Airport — privatised and gone for at least 30 years from the ownership and control of the people of Bermuda and then, maybe, Mr Speaker, maybe it is gone for ever.”

That “maybe” disappeared from the assessments of the People's Campaign and Mr Famous, who still assert that Bermuda is giving the airport away to a bunch of Canadians.

Over and over again, it has been explained that privatisation isn't in this deal — that the airport, its land, its buildings and, in 30 years' time, its operation, remain in Bermuda's hands — but it's a spin that keeps getting repeated.

The Finance Minister reacts this way: “We hear all this stuff about privatisation. They are just throwing that word around because they feel that word is an emotive word out there in the public. It is red meat for their supporters … They will find fault with this no matter what I do.”

Ain't that the truth?

In fact, this redevelopment plan creates jobs, frees up Government resources and money to be directed to other vital areas, like improving education, lowering taxes and protecting pensions, all without driving Bermuda deeper into debt. With it in place, Bermuda can move on to addressing the issues that will improve the lives of Bermuda's families.

Wayne Scott is the Minister of Education and a One Bermuda Alliance MP.

A political football? an artist's impression of the new, redeveloped airport

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Published August 30, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated August 30, 2016 at 5:38 am)

The shifting grounds of airport opposition

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