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Premier has no regrets about not calling an early election

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Premier Paula Cox this week declared her confidence that, with her at the helm, she will lead her party to another victory at the polls. And not calling a general election during her honeymoon period as Premier or her decision to retain the Finance portfolio do not count among her regrets. In a broad ranging half-hour interview on Sunday afternoon, Ms Cox also said the Good Governance legislation she shepherded through the House of Assembly last summer, and more open Government were aspects of her first year as Premier that she was pleased about. Ms Cox had a strong favourability rating when she became Premier a year ago, and the Opposition United Bermuda Party, at the time the Official Opposition Party was in tatters. Her favourability rating has since declined significantly. But while she hinted that there were some with the party who advised her to call an election, she said it would not have been fair to the electorate. And despite the most recent poll numbers, she has no regrets, she said. 'Not at all. I think that's unfair to the people. You're asking them to buy a bill of goods that is untried and untested as leader. It's not about just political preferment. I think people were suffering economically,' the Premier said. 'And they needed to have some hope, they needed to see some action and it's not just for me to call an election to get my jollies because I felt I was in the strongest position as a new leader that's almost playing political chicanery. And that's not where I was. It doesn't mean that wouldn't have been a view of others within the party. That wasn't being fair to people.' It was put to her that an electoral victory could have been assured had she called an election then. 'What makes you think I wouldn't win it anyway?' was her retort. 'Don't get caught up in polls. They reflect a mood at the time. People have not lost confidence or faith in Paula Cox or the PLP Government but I don't expect them to be feeling warm and fuzzy when they see there's tremendous uncertainty and economic disruption. Let's not be fatuous about that.' 'People know what they get with me. They know I'm straight up and that I'm not into sleight of hand. And people had a right to know what to expect. And I had to be in the office. If they don't like what they got, they have an opportunity. But I believe when it comes down to a choice between Paula Cox and another leader and what they bring to the table I have confidence that the people will vote for the Progressive Labour Party Government.' Asked what she was pleased about over her first year in office, the Premier noted her efforts to 'improve the framework' in which Government operates, citing Good Governance legislation and the Procurement Unit. She said she was also bringing to the country a more open Government. 'I think it's important that you involve people in decisions as to why decisions are being made,' she said. 'As we go forward, the issue of improving the tangible output to the people has to feature even more.' She cited the open budgeting process and the medium term framework, as an example of more open government. And Ms Cox noted her first Throne Speech was about 'reconfiguring' government 'in terms of Ministerial portfolios but also in terms of setting out what we saw as some of the key deliverables in terms of being seen as being more responsive and more facilitative toward business. We're going through different and trying times and Government is not going to be the unique purveyor and provider of jobs. The new heroes for this 21st century and especially going through these tough times are going to be the private sector and, particularly, the entrepreneurs.' 'That is why you see incentives for job makers, and that is why you see it with the issue of providing ten year work permits. It's about making Bermuda even more welcoming.' She said she was also pleased that while some spending cuts had been made in other areas, her administration had made sure that essential services had not been cut, and established Civil Service jobs had been preserved. 'It doesn't make sense if you're going to leach off hundreds of civil servants who are going to be forming an endless queue at the Department of Financial Assistance. So we've sought to preserve established jobs. and we've also sought to maintain service delivery not withstanding that the easiest option is to just reduce services and cut people,' Ms Cox said. 'That doesn't require any forethought and doesn't require any magic. It's easy as an action item, but you gotta always think through the consequences of actions.' Ms Cox offered her reflections on the political journey of the Progressive Labour Party from a movement to Government. She said she was conscious of the 'issue of political sustainability' now that the PLP was in Government and had stressed the need to 'reconnect' with the people when she announced her leadership bid. 'To me that is important because what happens as government over the years, it's easier when you are the underdog and the opposition. As Government, particularly when you are government of one term or two terms and you're not seen as an aberration, I think you have to work harder to continue to engender the affection of the people, because what you've become is the status quo' said the Premier. 'And even though, for Paula Cox, having been in the political wilderness for so long as a party, what I have to appreciate is that young voters or voters who are coming of age to vote, have only known us. So, for people of our generation, we know the historical context and that we have been marginalised and sidelined.' The PLP was going through an 'identity repositioning,' as a consequence, she said. 'So to some, you are the status quo. That would never be how I see us as a PLP party or even as a PLP government. So I can understand the need and that's why I think the importance of grassroots and the importance of reconnecting is valuable for any party and for any government that wants to continue to have sustainability. You see we're not just about legislation, it's more about the people and how we can add value. And I think that is what is part of our strength and that is what we have to make sure we continue to reignite and stay connected and focus on. So it is an issue that resonates. It's an issue of sustainability.' Ms Cox went on to say that party processes and structures would ensure that the legislators 'continue to remember that we are standard bearers for the principles of the party, which is social and economic justice and fairness.' 'Those are our principles, as a party and the fact that we are elected to government doesn't mean we lose sight of what our fundamental principles are. Because that is what has propelled us to electoral success. But it's not the Government that is a movement so much as it is the party.' Asked how she saw herself as a leader, she said: 'As somebody who is a strong advocate for opportunities being provided for Bermudians to succeed. That is how I see myself, that I am a strong advocate for Bermudian empowerment and for Bermudians getting opportunities. And, as part and parcel of that, recognises that there are those who are vulnerable and who one has a responsibility to assist.'

Premier Paual Cox speaks about her first year as leader of the Country.
Royal Gazette political reporter Ayo Johnson interviews Premier Paula Cox.
Premier Paual Cox speaks about her first year as leader of the Country.