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PLP urges people to protest peacefully

Opposition leader David Burt closed the latest town hall meeting on the airport project with a clear message to opponents of the deal: make your presence heard, but abide by the law.

Speaking of Friday's sitting of Parliament to debate two Acts linked with the deal, Mr Burt last night told a crowd of about 300: “I will make sure to encourage you to not break the law, but make sure we assemble in a peaceful fashion, to make sure the people's representatives see the people, and how the people feel.”

The message proved unpopular with some who attended last night's meeting at Dellwood Middle School, with one woman demanding that protesters “stop this Bill come hell or high water” — while a man decried Mr Burt's leadership, to applause, saying he should “tell your army to show up for battle”.

Responding that he was sorry for disappointing him, the Progressive Labour Party leader said the Opposition's job was to educate the people and to work in the political sphere.

Chris Furbert, the president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, made an appearance, getting a standing ovation by urging “if we want to stop police and the OBA government, the country better show up”.

“It's time for the silent majority to show up at the House of Assembly Friday, so we can really turn this deal down,” Mr Furbert added.

Mr Burt's cautious stance was echoed by Michael Scott, the Shadow Attorney-General, who told the crowd that police could stop anyone “standing in front of the gates and preventing access to a public building”, while a member of the audience advised that “as long as you keep moving, they have no right to stop you”.

The bulk of the two-hour meeting concerned the financials for the project, over which Mr Burt and Bob Richards, the Minister of Finance, have differed vehemently since the first PLP town hall meeting on it was held in December 2014.

While Mr Burt continued to criticise Mr Richards for his failure to include the deal's financial model with the agreement under review by MPs, Mr Richards yesterday insisted the model would never have been divulged for a public-private partnership, as it contained economic details for a private company, and thus did not belong to the Government.

“Based on the financial information provided, the Opposition should be able to perform all calculations it requires to come to a full understanding of the project economics for Bermuda,” the minister said.

Acknowledging a long 27 months in which many had grown “tired of hearing about the airport”, Mr Burt pointed to the school's absence of wi-fi as part of the reason why the deal should be seen as important.

He said that Aecon, the contractor appointed by Canadian Commercial Corporation, stands to reap a minimum of $300 million over the course of the new terminal's 30 years of management under Bermuda Skyport Limited, modelled off its 15.9 per cent return.

Mr Burt said that Aecon stood to put $69 million up front out of a total project development cost of $418 million, telling the audience that the island would receive “nothing” until the contractor had recouped its investment.

The Leader of the Opposition said he noted the presence of an Aecon representative in last night's meeting.

Mr Burt also insisted that the airport terminal project could not be likened to the public-private partnership behind the hospital acute care wing, since the airport deal entailed diverting government revenue.

Lawrence Scott, the Shadow Minister of Transport, questioned why the model he had brought to Parliament two years and 11 months ago — “without having to give away financial or operational control” — had been dismissed by Mr Richards. “At the end of the day, it looks as though this airport will just be another additional tax on Bermudians, because they only looked at one option,” Mr Scott said.

Mr Burt also noted that the independent Blue Ribbon Panel set up by Mr Richards in January had yet to issue its assessment, and questioned its efficacy since “the terms of reference were limited just to commercial soundness — they don't get to ask the question whether or not it makes sense”.

Questions from some in the audience were limited to whatever avenue remained for stopping the deal.

Asked by one woman what solution remained, Mr Burt replied: “This is the political process.”

He called on voters to make their views known to their MPs, adding: “We want to win this vote in Parliament.”

“I don't know,” the audience member responded. “What's the answer?”

Another answered her: “People power.”

On occasion The Royal Gazette may decide to not allow comments on a story that we deem might inflame sensitivities or discontinue them when the discourse is lowered by commenters to unacceptable standards. As we are legally liable for any slanderous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.

Opposition leader David Burt addresses the meeting (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published February 08, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated February 08, 2017 at 3:56 pm)

PLP urges people to protest peacefully

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