Throne Speech: what are the priorities?
A living wage for Bermudians and a move away from “trickledown politics” are among the Throne Speech priorities proposed by local politicians and political commentators.
The reconvening of Parliament falls on Monday along with the announcement of the Government's priorities for the next parliamentary session.
Political scientist and Progressive Labour Party MP Walton Brown said that if the Government failed to progress on three critical issues, it risked “continued disaffection” over the One Bermuda Alliance's governance.
Jobs, violent crime and affordable healthcare stood out as top priorities.
On employment, Mr Brown told The Royal Gazette: “It is not the Government's responsibility to create jobs, but to create the appropriate environment for quality jobs to be created.”
There had been “nothing” in the last four years on generating quality jobs, he said, which had “deeply affected” people enduring years of hardship.
Mr Brown said the OBA had staked everything on trickledown economics, which failed to benefit ordinary workers or even mid-level people.
While he respected the Bermuda Police Service's focus on “better understanding” over more punitive methods for violent crime, Mr Brown called for a comprehensive approach. He continued: “There are a variety of models that one can embrace but what we need is a focus by government.
“You don't solve a problem with a slogan — ‘if you see something, say something'. That is not a policy. Let's have a debate — do we need to focus more on social and economic conditions that give rise to this activity? Do we need to adopt a harsher approach where the rule of law is effective?”
Finally, Mr Brown described the medical bills crippling those in need of care as “fundamentally wrong”.
“Seeing on the front page of the Gazette that a woman faced a $120k medical bill, I find it profoundly offensive that we are in 2016 in a country richer than 90 per cent of others, yet we do not have a coherent, sustainable, affordable healthcare system.
“We cannot have a healthcare system that is fundamentally driven by maximising profits. That is a recipe for increased costs. We need to adopt an approach close to what you see in many European countries, where healthcare is seen as a basic right — not a privilege. If they don't do it, the next Government will have to.”
Echoing Mr Brown's comments, political commentator Phil Perinchief highlighted a need to shift from “trickledown economics” to focus on a living wage, particularly for low income families.
“Bermuda's cost of living is far, far too high. To have affordable housing, it is not just the lowering of the price — what we need is a reduction in interest rates for commercial and residential mortgages and loans.”
Mr Perinchief said that the setting of interest rates needed to be wrested from private financial institutions, and into the hands of a government central bank.
Finally, he suggested examining a flat rate tax on international companies in the range of 0.5 to 2 per cent across their bottom line levels.
“We have the Googles in this country making millions if not billions — that won't hurt them.
“That money would be ploughed back into our economy, and could underwrite substantially our budget, which would help bring the cost of living down. Prices and goods are cheaper and people can buy more, which will encourage not just the multiplier effect economically but also employment.”
A system of proportional representation would also be of benefit, with a shift from the “first past the post system” that encouraged political polarisation.
Rolfe Commissiong, PLP backbencher and chairman of the Joint Select Committee on the establishment of a living wage, agreed to prioritising a living wage while reducing the disparity between blacks and whites.
“There may be some signs that the economy has improved marginally but I stand by the comment of John Wight on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce, on his concerns about a growing income disparity. That disparity is also reflective of our racial divide. If we don't begin to tackle that more broadly, we are going to see the social cohesion that Bermuda has enjoyed over the last couple of decades continue to decline.”
Speaking of a brain drain of young, black Bermudian talent leaving the island, Mr Commissiong added: “We need to see the sort of policy and legislative prescriptions, not only by this Government but the next Government as well, that will reverse this trend and make Bermuda attractive not only for foreign investors but for growing numbers of Bermudians who feel they can no longer afford to live here.”
Veteran commentator Charles Jeffers likened Bermuda's electoral choices to the grim options in the United States: “Voters will have to hold their noses and go by candidates, not by political party,” he said.
Monday may not necessarily be the final Throne Speech for the OBA, political observer Khalid Wasi pointed out — so the party “still has time to throw bold initiatives at the public”.
But the loss of Craig Cannonier as leader, and the departure of the “effective voice” of Shawn Crockwell, lost the OBA two members who spoke to its black constituents.
“At the core of the Brexit vote, and now the US presidential race, is a clear bottom line with people or majority populations that are angry as a result of being marginalised by globalisation or the effects of migrant workers perceived as taking away jobs and opportunity,” Mr Wasi added.
Ultimately, he said, the OBA needed to deliver “a clear ‘pathway' for locals to succeed in their own economy”.
A tough year for the One Bermuda Alliance, with internal rancour over leadership and the party’s ability to communicate its message, has calmed during the break from Parliament, according to a party source.
A quiet summer enabled the ruling party to focus on its aims in Parliament, and strengthening its candidates for election mode.
While the resignation of troubled Opposition leader Marc Bean emphasised the OBA’s need to “get its act in gear”, the source said the OBA’s priority was to concentrate on itself, and not the Progressive Labour Party’s disharmony.
“At the end of the day, the PLP will fix itself.”
The OBA won votes in 2012 from an electorate eager for “wholesale change”, the source said — many of whom would feel disillusioned by the slow pace of its delivery.
A strong Throne Speech on Monday would be one that hit hard on addressing inequality and delivering “creative” social solutions, particularly on education, where many have seen the OBA as lacking a coherent focus or popular touch.