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Cannonier, Richards to vie for OBA leadership

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Senator Craig Cannonier is the hot favourite to become Opposition leader after it emerged he’s forming a joint ticket with Senator Michael Dunkley at the One Bermuda Alliance leadership conference.

Sen Cannonier will take on Shadow Finance Minister Bob Richards for the OBA’s top job after Sen Dunkley pulled out of the race despite enjoying good poll results and support from large sections of the party.

Sen Dunkley and Shadow Attorney General Trevor Moniz will battle for deputy at the event at the Fairmont Southampton next Saturday; the candidates were announced at a press conference yesterday.

Until recently, Sen Cannonier and Sen Dunkley, who formerly led the Bermuda Democratic Alliance and United Bermuda Party respectively, were direct rivals for the post.

But a party source told

The Royal Gazette yesterday: “Cannonier and Dunkley are supporting one another on their bids for leader and deputy. It’s a bold and very progressive partnership we believe can take this Country forward.”

Senior members had been extremely concerned the pair would cause an internal rift by going head to head at the conference, with Sen Cannonier enjoying backing from former BDA members, and Sen Dunkley from ex-UBP members.

Some party members were said to be urging Sen Dunkley to step aside to stop the OBA being dubbed a reincarnation of the UBP, the party he led to defeat at the last general election.

However, Sen Dunkley told this newspaper: “Any connection to the UBP never came into my consideration.”

Sen Dunkley told caucus members in a letter he didn’t want to quit the Smith’s North constituency he’s hoping to fight at the next election; if he was leader he would be required to move to the Devonshire South Central seat being vacated by outgoing interim leader John Barritt.

Former UBP leader Wayne Furbert suggested the real reason is the OBA wants a black leader to attract black votes, but Sen Dunkley and OBA interim chairman Michael Fahy scotched that suggestion.

Thad Hollis was elected as chairman unchallenged, while Michael Branco, Jeanne Atherden and Karen Magnum will contest the two deputy chairman positions. The leadership conference will take place on September 10 at Fairmont Southampton.

Mr Richards, the son of former UBP Premier Sir Edward Richards, was a key player in the UBP for many years, losing to Kim Swan in a leadership contest in 2009.

He is likely to get backing from those formerly in the UBP and for his background on finance, but Sen Cannonier will be given a huge lift from the additional support he gleans from Sen Dunkley’s camp as part of the joint ticket. Mr Fahy said: “I would like to offer my congratulations to all of these candidates, and to wish them the very best of luck on election night.”

Mr Furbert, a UBP leader in 2006/07, but now a Progressive Labour Party backbencher, told this newspaper: “I’m not surprised at Cannonier and Bob Richards being the only two candidates because at the end of the day they are trying to attract the black voters. It’s two blacks in front and two whites running for deputy.

“The polls showed clearly that people wanted Michael. This was a strategy the UBP used to use: get blacks in front to get black voters. The real power will be the deputies. I remember the time the leadership change was going from Grant Gibbons to myself. I believe the whole year we spent on what should that person look like. It came down to that it should be a black leader.

“Michael definitely wanted leadership at that time but they felt it had to be a black leader. Michael Dunkley is more qualified than Bob Richards and Craig Cannonier so why would they not run Michael? It doesn’t make sense.”

Sen Dunkley, who says he never put his name forward to replace Dr Gibbons, replied: “I really am not interested in what Wayne Furbert has to say about this matter, although I am grateful for his support and confidence in me. My comments give a detailed explanation of my reasons and thus nothing needs to be added, however I do find it very interesting that now he is a member of the PLP even this matter comes down to black and white.

“Sorry Wayne, I am focused on wrong and right and putting Bermuda first! This Island and our people are hurting and it is time for a change.”

Mr Fahy said: “The PLP election strategists will pull out all stops to label the OBA. After all that is all they have in their arsenal. Wayne is merely the puppet in this lame attempt in political mudslinging. Perhaps this is Wayne’s way of seeking a Cabinet post?

“The people of Bermuda will not be foiled by this petty propaganda. The OBA is forging a new path by being inclusive in its electoral approach and demonstrating that through different people with different experiences working together Bermuda will win.

“The time for the politics of the past is over. It is time to take Bermuda to the next level in political maturity and find solutions to the economic and social woes we are currently experiencing.”

Facing off: Shadow Finance Minister ET (Bob) Richards (left) and Senator Craig Cannonier (right). Also shown is Sen Kathy Michelmore

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Published September 02, 2011 at 10:00 am (Updated September 02, 2011 at 10:38 am)

Cannonier, Richards to vie for OBA leadership

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