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‘Cannonier was the fall guy’

Bob Richards describes Craig Cannonier’s resignation as a mistake.(Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The One Bermuda Alliance scored a huge own goal by making Craig Cannonier the “fall guy” for Jetgate, according to former deputy premier Bob Richards.

Mr Richards described Mr Cannonier’s resignation as premier as a “very traumatic event” which could have contributed to the OBA’s dismal failure to keep the trust of the public during its 4½ years in power.

He also called for fellow “old soldiers” of the party to step aside after last month’s crushing General Election defeat — with Mr Cannonier still his choice as leader.

Mr Cannonier sensationally resigned in May 2014, to be replaced by Michael Dunkley, after being involved in the Jetgate controversy along with Cabinet colleagues Mark Pettingill and Shawn Crockwell.

Mr Richards would not divulge the full story behind the scandal, but told The Royal Gazette: “The public doesn’t know what happened. Craig was made to be the fall guy.”

The former finance minister said his own defeat to Mr Cannonier in the OBA’s first leadership contest in September 2011 had been “a blessing in disguise”.

“I think if I had won that, I don’t think we would have won the 2012 election,” he said.

“Craig was the right guy. Quite frankly, he’s still the right guy.”

Asked whether Mr Cannonier should return as leader — a position taken by Patricia Gordon-Pamplin following the resignation of Mr Dunkley last month — Mr Richards said: “I hope so. He’s a very talented person in ways that I’m not. He has charisma. I don’t think I could’ve done what he did in 2012 to bring people together.”

Mr Richards said of the public perception of the OBA during its tenure: “They trusted us enough to get elected in the first place. The trust was clearly lost along the way. The irony is, we did do what we were elected to do, but in doing so we lost trust. I don’t have the answers.”

Some believe the OBA lost that trust because it won the 2012 election under the umbrella of a new political entity, only to then resemble the old United Bermuda Party once Mr Dunkley became premier, supported by former UBP politicians such as Mr Richards, Ms Gordon-Pamplin, Grant Gibbons and Trevor Moniz.

Asked for his thoughts on that theory, Mr Richards said: “I think that’s a good thesis. The resignation of Craig Cannonier, I think, was a very traumatic event for the OBA. Very traumatic. I think it had long-lasting effects.

“That’s another reason I’m happy to be sitting here not elected. It’s time for the old soldiers to shove off. I’m one of them.

“It’s time for new people to replace some of the old soldiers that are left. I think that’s what’s going to have to happen with the OBA, because people just have to accept that you do your bit. The company is not yours. You serve your time and you step aside and other people have to step up and run the show.

“I know this to be true. I have seen this growing up the son of a politician. It doesn’t matter how successful you are, there comes a time when you have to step aside.”

He declined to name individuals, but said: “I would say to members that if they want to make changes they have got to step up and make the commitment. You can’t stay on the edge and make noises from the edge.

“I think there’s plenty of talent in there, and plenty of talent out there — people who may be reticent to get involved in politics, because politics is not a nice game.”

On July 18, the Progressive Labour Party won 24 seats against 12 for the OBA, with the PLP claiming almost 60 per cent of the popular vote. In arguably the biggest shock of the night, Mr Richards lost his Devonshire East seat to Christopher Famous by 94 votes.

Days earlier, a Global Research poll commissioned by this newspaper showed the OBA was 11 points ahead of the PLP.

Mr Richards said of the survey: “One of my colleagues said people lied — I don’t buy that. Those folks have been pretty reliable. How this happened is a mystery to me. The poll was echoing what we already had, so it was a major glitch.

“There were some major miscalculations in what the mood of the public was on our part.

“People who were in the OBA are going to have to figure out what went wrong, because we did think we were going to win the election. We were clearly not connected enough to the community to understand we were even in trouble.”

He acknowledged the OBA had upset large numbers of people with its approach to immigration. “That last demonstration on Parliament: I don’t think the people ever got over that,” he said.

But he believed the Pathways Bill would have brought desperately needed improvement to the ailing economy, and said the Government was “determined to turn things around as rapidly as possible”.

“We were in a hurry,” he said. “Bermuda is not accustomed to government being in a hurry.

“It was clear to me as the economics guy that what we were proposing for immigration was very sound economics.

“Politics is very often quite different from hard economics. We made a political miscalculation, that’s obvious. I believe that if we weren’t operating in excess of the accustomed political speed limit, we may have had a more measured approach to that particular issue.”

With the benefit of hindsight, he said: “We could have done it in pieces instead of trying to do it all at once. The phase that people felt particularly threatened by, we could have just not done, and we would be in a better position now.

“It was clear that people were very angry. Upon reflection, I think many people thought that we were trying to manipulate for political advantage. That was never my rationale.”