Snap! Burt calls General Election for October 1
Voters will go to the polls on October 1 after the Premier called a General Election yesterday.
David Burt, the Progressive Labour Party leader, said the decision was based on financial prudency because of the possibility of multiple by-elections.
But Craig Cannonier, the leader of the One Bermuda Alliance, claimed that a General Election could cost more than $1 million at a time when civil servants faced pay cuts.
Political commentators had mixed reactions to the announcement — one branded it a distraction, but another said it would allow the Government to get a clear public mandate.
Mr Burt said yesterday that John Rankin, the Governor, had accepted his advice to call the election.
He added: “The prospect of a series of by-elections does not represent the best use of the public purse at this time, but a General Election by which the people of Bermuda will safely cast their votes will allow us as a community to devote our efforts to the rebuilding of our economy and the creation of greater opportunity for Bermudians who have shown strength and commitment to each other during this challenging period.”
The PLP notched up a landslide win in the last General Election on July 18, 2017.
Mr Burt asked: “With the Government entering its fourth year, I had to make an important economic choice.
“Do we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on three, four, five or more by-elections and then have to pay for a General Election?
“Or, is it more financially prudent to just go ahead and call a General Election and allow those MPs who wish to retire the opportunity to do so?
“I chose the option that saves Bermudian taxpayers money.”
He added: “I also thought about the 20 months of bickering that a series of by-elections would bring. Instead of subjecting Bermudians to months of division, I found it prudent to call a General Election that would allow the Government chosen by the people to focus squarely on our economic recovery and make tough choices.
“I chose to get on with it.
“The truth is, tough times lie ahead and the Government needs the backing of the people to make the hard decisions today that will benefit all Bermudians in the long run.
Mr Burt told the public: “We ably led us through to the new normal and now we seek your support to rebuild the economy in a way that works for all Bermudians, and not just the rich and powerful, who have always had it all.
“Bermuda and the world have changed since the last election. These times require capable, steady and proven leadership — leadership that cares for Bermudians, is focused on ably managing the coronavirus and our economic recovery, providing affordable healthcare, and phasing out middle schools.
“We need strong leadership, solid plans for the future and vision to see us through to better times.”
The Premier, earlier this month, posted a letter on social media addressed to Mr Cannonier, where he highlighted that three of the OBA's 12 MPs had resigned since the 2017 General Election.
He asked how many more resignations were expected and whether it was anticipated that they would happen “in the near future”.
Mr Burt wrote: “As you are aware, by-elections cost money. Specifically, each by-election costs taxpayers $30,000.”
The letter was penned after Mr Cannonier said that there were “very senior members” in both parties and he expected resignations from the PLP and OBA.
Mr Cannonier said: “After complaining about spending $30,000 on a by-election, the Premier now wants to spend over $1 million on a General Election.
“We are wasting $1 million just as the Premier has asked hard-working civil servants to take a pay cut and is threatening to make enforced cuts on workers who served this country on the Covid frontline.
“The number of active cases of Covid is now in double digits — the pandemic is not over. It seems the Premier is prepared to jeopardise people's health by holding a General Election just so that he can deflect from an economy that is dying on its feet.”
Mr Cannonier added: “This is not a man who cares about the people.”
He told the Premier: “This is not necessary now. With about two years left before an election has to be called and a 25-11 majority, do the job you are meant to do — fix the economy.
“This serves no one's benefit but the Premier's. This is a man who, by his actions, has demonstrated that he is simply self-serving.”
The Governor confirmed that the Legislature was dissolved from 5pm yesterday.
Mr Burt said that the deadline to register to vote to take part in the election was August 29 and nomination day would be September 10.
He told Mr Rankin in a letter that he would be grateful for a request to be made to the Parliamentary Registrar “to make use of the recent amendments to the Parliamentary Election Act to hold advance polls in the week of September 14” to allow students who may be returning to studies in Britain to vote.
A PLP spokeswoman said later that Opposition parties should want and be prepared for a General Election.
The spokeswoman added that the PLP was “capable of calmly addressing the unexpected, stands firm in the face of adversity and does not lose its composure at the first sign of trouble”.
The PLP took 20,059 votes in 2017, almost 59 per cent of the vote, and won 24 seats.
It was the highest number of votes obtained by a party under the system of 36 single-seat constituencies, which was introduced in 2003.
There were by-elections in Paget East and Warwick North East in 2018, as well as in Pembroke Central last year.
The PLP picked up Warwick North East in 2018 when Curtis Dickinson, now the finance minister, recorded a 75-vote majority over Justin Mathias with 375 votes to 300 in a contest sparked by the resignation of Jeff Baron.
The House of Assembly had 25 PLP MPs, ten OBA MPs and one constituency — Smith's West — without a representative after the retirement from politics of Opposition member Trevor Moniz before it was dissolved.
Vic Ball, a former OBA senator, and Vance Campbell, a sitting PLP senator, were announced as the candidates who would fight to fill the vacant seat.
The Premier can call a General Election at any time during the five-year term of a Parliament.
Sir John Swan, a former premier in the old United Bermuda Party and the longest-serving, said: “I think the Premier has made the right decision.
“Let's get the election out of the way. Then we can focus on getting the country in a better economic condition.”
Sir John added: “If David Burt can succeed at that as he has done with Covid-19, everyone will love him.
“If I were in his position, I would have done it as well.”
Charles Jeffers, a political pundit and former leader of the National Liberal Party, predicted the PLP would win the election.
But he added: “I'm not excited about this at all.”
Mr Jeffers said it was “a major distraction from what we should be really doing — we should be concentrating on getting our country back in order”.
He added: “The Government and the Premier have been doing a great job, and now we're distracted by this.”
Make your vote count
The Parliamentary Registry issued a statement on electoral procedure with the announcement yesterday of a General Election for October 1.
Voters were advised that:
• New constituency boundaries can be viewed at the Parliamentary Registry website, elections.gov.bm. Registers of voters will be available for viewing at the Parliamentary Registry as well as post offices by Monday.
• A seven-day voter registration period ends at 5pm on Saturday, August 29, for new voters or voters whose details have changed to submit registration forms.
• Voters can register online on the Parliamentary Registry website.
• The Parliamentary Registry is open to accept registrations starting today, from 10am to 5pm.
• Voter's cards and verification letters will not be issued until after the seven-day registration period.
• The Parliamentary Registry will also be updating the website daily.
Its offices are on the third floor of Craig Appin House, 8 Wesley Street, Hamilton, with regular hours from 9am to 5pm. The public can call 293-VOTE (8683) for further assistance.
• To read the Premier's letter to the Governor and the party press releases, click on the PDF links under “Related Media”.