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New leader Burt expects united, focused PLP

Ready for the challenge: leader of the Progressive Labour Party David Burt. (Photograph by Sarah Lagan)

Positioning the Progressive Labour Party “collectively as a strong and viable alternative to the government” is the priority for incoming party leader David Burt.

Speaking to The Royal Gazette following his leadership victory on Monday evening, when Walter Roban was also voted in as his deputy, he said his team going forward would be expected to work together for the good of the party and the country.

He confirmed that he will reappoint senators Renee Ming and Kim Wilkerson as “both have served us very well,” but would not give further details on future appointments.

He said: “I am humbled and gratified by the trust that has been put in me — it is an awesome responsibility, it is a sacrifice, it will certainly be a challenge.

“But this issue isn’t about David Burt — it is about the Progressive Labour Party and about a country that has been suffering under four years of broken promises by the One Bermuda Alliance.

“I will be looking for a team that can stay focused on the job as we are elected to do and to present ourselves collectively as a strong and viable alternative to a government, that as many people see it, is focused on the elite and privileged and out of touch with the challenges that the average Bermudian faces on a daily basis, and that is what we are looking for — people who can ensure they can represent the PLP well.

“I don’t expect there will be a huge number of changes and we are going to move forward to ensure that we are continuing to hold the OBA to account.” Asked whether any of the six shadow cabinet ministers who resigned back in December, citing differences with former leader Marc Bean, would return to his cabinet, Mr Burt replied: “Everything will be revealed in short order.”

Mr Burt refuted accusations that his party had no solid plan pointing to its last Reply to the Throne Speech as well as its reply to the Budget last year.

“We have a lot of plans. It is about making sure we communicate those plans,” he said.

During his leadership bid speech at Devonshire Recreational Club on Monday night, one specific issue Mr Burt raised was that of the need for improvement in Bermuda’s public education system. The father of two said he believed Bermuda had been let down by the OBA in terms of preparing students for technological advances during the same term that $100m had been allocated to the America’s Cup.

“We need to focus on raising standards and preparing the youth for the 21st century global economy. There are schools that don’t even have wi-fi — how is it that in 2016 we have schools that don’t have wi-fi? That is wholly unacceptable. We have to make sure that they have the best technology, the best tools that they can learn from in the classroom.

“What is also important is training and lifelong education. We have to make sure that if we attract new industries and diversify the economy, we also ensure that people are able and ready to do those jobs.

“We called in our budget reply for a tripling of the training Budget. We need to train Bermudians and that investment is proven over time to yield incredible benefits internationally — you need to invest in your people. Those are the type of priorities you will see from the PLP government that will be different than what the OBA’s priorities are.”

Speaking on why that wasn’t done under the previous PLP administration, Mr Burt added: “We lost an election in 2012 because people didn’t think we were doing the things that were necessary. It is our job in opposition to point out the things that we need to be doing and it is our job as the government to fulfil those aims. It is all a question of priority and from the perspective that we sit now — especially knowing the way that technology is moving and changing — we cannot have that digital divide inside of our schools.”

Mr Burt said he was well aware that the PLP needed to gain the confidence back from the people as a party that could work together following a tumultuous year marred by division. Former senator Marc Daniels quit following the retirement of Marc Bean, describing “subterfuge” and deceitful behaviour as playing a part in his ousting.

Mr Burt said: “I have known former senator Daniels since I was five years old; he is an amazing public servant; he is an amazing individual; he has his opinion — he has a few. I think what is most important for the PLP is to move forward and unify.

“We cannot focus on the differences that we have. When it is in democracy you are always going to have differences in opinion — that is no different in a marriage. The question is how do you manage those differences? We will do what we can to help the rifts.

“If we continue to battle each other rather than battling the OBA, I think that could be a challenge. From the perspective of the PLP we have to focus on the task at hand.

“We are Bermuda’s oldest political party, we are the most vibrant political party, we have branches around the country that continue to meet, that organise many events for the community and our students and seniors on the ground and we will continue to do the work in Parliament.”