Senate: ‘No one is buying Burt’s platitudes’
Senator Jeff Baron has accused new Opposition leader David Burt of giving election “platitudes” which the public won't buy in his Reply to the Throne Speech.
The national security minister questioned how Mr Burt could say people of any sexual orientation would be welcomed by the Progressive Labour Party when he recently described same-sex marriage as “culturally unacceptable” in an interview with The Royal Gazette.
“No one is buying that,” said Mr Baron, who supports same-sex marriage, during a debate in the Upper Chamber on this year's Throne Speech.
He said Mr Burt's comments on gay people and a promise to be fiscally prudent in his Reply were examples of how the world was living in a “post-truth, post-factual time”.
“This is the subterfuge, the deceit, not the internal [party] stuff,” he claimed.
Of Mr Burt, he said: “I wish him well, I really mean that. But you want to bake in fiscal prudence to your vision after the dismal record that the Opposition had while they were in charge, while they were pulling levers.
“That's a gutsy move. That is a gutsy, gutsy move. Fiscal prudence, as if the last 15 years were ephemeral. They are gone.”
Mr Baron said he was “sad to see” the PLP had an empty seat in the Upper Chamber after the resignation of Marc Daniels, who said he could not serve under Mr Burt.
“He served his party and his country well,” said the minister. “I didn't agree with many things he said but I wanted to acknowledge that.”
Mr Baron began his remarks this morning by noting that many had suggested this would be the last Throne Speech debate before the next General Election.
“Exciting times, indeed,” he said. The senator described the Throne Speech as a “call for unity” which highlighted a “snapshot of Bermuda's steady rise” under the OBA.
He said it contrasted sharply with the Reply, which he claimed was a vision for 2025 with no explanation of how goals would be achieved.
“We are the government right now and we have done a tremendous amount to safeguard the prosperity of the people of this island,” he said.
Mr Baron said the One Bermuda Alliance's successes in the last four years included much improved visitor numbers, less crime and a growing GDP. And he said they came despite his party inheriting a “financial quagmire” which had to be fixed.
But PLP senator Renee Ming painted a picture of two Bermudas — one where some prospered and another where Bermudians suffered because of social and economic problems.
She suggested Mr Baron and others within the OBA were not in touch with the Bermuda in which she lived and had a “trust deficit” with much of the electorate, never more visible than during the protests at Parliament in March over planned immigration reform.
“We are at a crossroads in our island,” she said. “Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, there are two Bermudas. You can go and ask the average Mr and Mrs Smith: how do we live in Bermuda?”
She lambasted the government for its failure to fix the public education system, adding: “Our children deserve more than lip service.”
Ms Ming noted that a pledge to implement the Danielson Framework to improve curriculum teaching was included in both the 2015 and 2016 Throne Speeches and asked when it would actually be accomplished.
She also highlighted the “deplorable” state of buildings revealed in the Score report on primary schools and said in many public schools, parents had to provide the paper. She gave an example of a school without air conditioning where children could not concentrate in the summer months because of the heat. The senator spoke of her 100-year-old great-grandmother and a grandmother who is almost 80, telling her fellow parliamentarians: “Their struggle is real.”
She said government was not doing enough to help seniors, many of whom had to decide between turning the lights on or buying medicine.
Ms Ming said an example of how the elderly were not a priority for the OBA could be found in the Sylvia Richardson Care Facility in St George's, where she alleged the elevator had been broken since May.
The home is run by the Ministry of Health, which has yet to reply to a request from this newspaper for a response to Ms Ming's allegation.
The Opposition politician was critical of Mr Baron, reminding him he'd pledged to stop gang violence but it hadn't stopped.
“They are beyond your control,” she said. “It was a bold statement to make at that time because four years on, where are we? I recall a few weeks ago we had three shooting incidents in one week. It's rhetoric for him, maybe, [but] reality for us.”
Ms Ming added: “Where I live, I see young men, I see when they are almost on the verge of just falling off. For them, it's hopeless. They may not have completed school, they don't know what their options are and they don't know what their alternatives are. Is Bermuda working for them?”
She said the OBA could cite its successes but much of the groundwork was laid by the PLP's 15 years in charge of the country.
“Bermuda has been open for business: it didn't start under the One Bermuda Alliance.”
Independent senator James Jardine said tourism was the “exciting news” for the island right now, with tens of thousands more visitors this year than last. “We are seeing substantial growth there. Overall, we have seen an increase of some 38,000 or 8.8 per cent in visitors when compared to the same period last year.
“The Bermuda Tourism Authority and anyone else involved in that needs to take credit for that.”
Mr Jardine said government needed to give up-to-date figures on employment, saying the most recent available were 18 months old. “A lot of good news we are seeing ... we have no idea what that means in terms of jobs.”