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Senate rubber stamps Corporation voting changes

Property owners in Hamilton could end up like those who famously dropped tea into Boston Harbor in 1773, Independent Senator Walwyn Hughes warned yesterday.

But although United Bermuda Party Senators also questioned the wisdom of “disenfranchising” city businesses, the Upper House consigned the property vote to the past by rubber-stamping the Municipalities (Election) Order.

The order enables a new system of voting in Hamilton and St George's, giving all residents on the electoral register the right to vote, and abolishing business owners' right to multiple votes.

That idea in principle was passed in the Municipalities Reform Act last summer, following a bitter public row between the Corporation of Hamilton and Government.

During a brief debate yesterday, Sen Hughes said at some stage Bermuda may have to give the vote back to property owners.

“Those property owners are going to be like the Tea Party, business owners who dropped their tea in Boston river because they didn't have representation,” said Sen Hughes.

“Unless something changes in the future, that's the way it will be.”

UBP Senator Suzann Roberts Holshouser said: “Does it disenfranchise the business owners who have a vested interest? If so does this fly in the face of democracy?

“There were many people disenfranchised in our history. We have got to move forward. That's what we are doing here, moving forward.

“Are we taking one step forward and half a step back? That's the question I have.”

The former St David's MP said of business owners, particularly in St George's: “You are there, day in, day out. You are responsible for the income of that town. Yet you don't have a vote.

“They have a clear understanding of all the services municipalities provide before an election.

“As we move forward into the 21st century, there's a concern on my behalf that we have removed a very valuable source by removing their ability to have at least one vote.”

Independent Senator Joan Dillas-Wright said she was concerned business folk are being disenfranchised, but added: “Be it as it may, we are where we are.”

She said other jurisdictions are reviewing their positions in order to encourage investment in cities.

Progressive Labour Party Senator David Burt argued electoral reform laid out in last summer's act was “definitely the right thing to do”.

He said the new system would encourage the Corporation of Hamilton to be more in tune with people who live in the city.

UBP Senator Michael Dunkley said the UBP was not against the principle behind the act, but were concerned about business representation.

He described the municipalities as a “toothless dog” which may bark but cannot bite, saying while they will do all the work, Government will have all the power.

Sen Dunkley said they would be dying a death of 665,000 cuts, a reference to the cost of a much-criticised report into municipality reform by consultants last year.

UBP Senate leader Jeanne Atherden warned there are already problems with people being registered to vote in areas they no longer live.

PLP Senators Kim Wilson, LaVerne Furbert, Cromwell Shakir and David Burch backed the order, which they said is a step towards full democracy.

Senator Burch spoke of vivid historical images of the landowner who mounted his horse and buggy in Somerset before casting his vote in every constituency he owned land in.

“That image is cast to memory, thank God,” said Sen Burch, who said yesterday's order would consign more inequality to memory.

He also said Charles Gosling had said he would resign if last year's act had passed, adding: “He's still there.”

Sen Shakir had opened the debate by giving a brief account of Bermuda's voting history.

Pointing to a class from Paget Primary in the public gallery, Sen Shakir suggested his speech could form part of their education for the day; however, the schoolchildren had all left the room before he'd finished his first sentence.

Sen Shakir concluded: “The process of reforming the municipalities has been a long and courageous undertaking.

“Democratic change is not always easy but, as our democratic and parliamentary election process evolves, so should the instruments that govern it.”

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Published March 31, 2011 at 1:00 am (Updated March 31, 2011 at 12:21 pm)

Senate rubber stamps Corporation voting changes

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