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‘I’m not trying to be popular, I’m trying to save our country’

Low poll ratings and a winter of discontent on the industrial front come as no surprise to Craig Cannonier.

A recent Royal Gazette poll showed the Premier's popularity stood at 43 percent — while the PLP's Marc Bean notched up a rating of 58 percent as leader of the Opposition.

And almost half of those surveyed — 48 percent — disapproved of Mr Cannonier's performance as Premier, while 35 percent felt the same about Mr Bean's handling of the role of Opposition leader.

“It's interesting — I knew that, coming into this, I wasn't going to be popular because we're suffering from years of inaction,” said Mr Cannonier.

“What we found coming into this was not just a financial mess but a structural mess as well — it's always tough coming into a job like this when you know you have to fix things.”

The survey also showed that 35 percent of those surveyed would vote PLP in a snap election, compared to 33 percent for the OBA — although the survey margin of error of plus or minus five percent makes the race more open.

“I'm not trying to win an election — I'm trying to save this country from economic demise. That is what we're trying to do here,” said the Premier. “Make no bones about it, I take responsibility for where we are and how we move forward.”

And Mr Cannonier stressed that — despite a series of wildcat strikes — he was confident that labour problems could be sorted out.

Mr Cannonier added that he and his Cabinet would have to “take decisions that are unpopular” as Government continued to deal with the Island's financial crisis and debt levels.

“The level of unrest has not surprised me at all. When we became Government, we were aware that people were stressed and really frustrated,” said the Premier.

“I am not surprised because we knew decisions were not being made. The can was continuing to be kicked down the road, and if you do that the frustration builds.”

He said he and Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy had met with Bermuda Industrial Union leader Chris Furbert last week to “ensure the union representatives had a chance to sit down with me and the Minister to see where the issues lie.”

Mr Cannonier added he could not discuss specific problems raised by the union.

“What we have is issues that are a culmination of years in the building,” he said. “These are not issues that came up overnight and we have some frustration that nothing has been done for years now.

“I must commend Mr Furbert for the meeting — I was very interested and encouraged by the BIU's presentation.”

Mr Cannonier said: “People are still looking for security. If they don't feel secure or don't know the future, they feel anxious.

“I am 100 percent aware of this which is why I am looking for talks with stakeholders. But we can't do this in the time frames we had in the past — we need to start putting things into motion now.”

But he added: “I believe that many of these outstanding issues with the BIU can be resolved in very quick time.”

But he warned: “We can no longer continue to negotiate the kind of collective bargaining agreements we did, with unlimited sick time and so on.”

And he added that efforts to streamline Government and moves to change the way services were delivered, including hiving off some services through mutualisation, where workers take a stake in the spun-off department, would continue.

Mr Cannonier said: “People are going to have to be a bit uncomfortable because we are in an uncomfortable position as a country.”

And, referring to Finance Minister Bob Richards' Budget commitment to ending the monopoly of power firm BELCO and swipe at the banks for their lending and interest policies, which he described as a drag on the economy and counter to the national interest, Mr Cannonier added that his Government was committed to a better deal for Bermudians.

And he added that BELCO's recent decision to cut its standing charges for lower users of power and increase them for bigger consumers was a result of Government talks with the firm.

Mr Cannonier said: “I am happy to see this happen — it's good for Bermuda and we are going to continue talks with BELCO. We're not going to ease up pressure on BELCO to find ways to assist ordinary Bermudians.”

He added: “We believe in shared sacrifice — I know the PLP claims that, but we really believe in it.

“We're going to continue to seek out industries in Bermuda, whether it be banks or the like, to see how we can help ordinary Bermudians. Everyone needs to share in the sacrifice and we will not back down.

“We've had the spin from the PLP that we are going after our own brothers and sisters but that's just pandering. We're not being selective — everyone has to play their part.”

Focused on the future: Premier Cannonier is less concerned about approval ratings, and more about rescuing Bermuda from economic meltdown

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Published March 10, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated March 10, 2014 at 7:26 pm)

‘I’m not trying to be popular, I’m trying to save our country’

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