Premier leads tributes to the Queen but many PLP MPs absent
Tributes have been paid to the memory of Queen Elizabeth II during a rare joint session of the Legislature called in her honour today.
The extraordinary gathering saw just two out of 34 Progressive Labour Party parliamentary representatives voicing their view of the late monarch, or her legacy.
Only about a dozen PLP MPs were present for the joint session, but the Speaker did not read out any apologies for absences. Three PLP senators were also present.
David Burt, the Premier, was expected to speak due to his rank as head of Government, but the only other PLP member to take part was Kim Swan MP.
All six One Bermuda Alliance MPs gave tributes to the late monarch, as did the party’s three senators, as well as John Wight, an independent senator, and Joan Dillas-Wright, the President of the Senate, who jointly oversaw the session.
Scheduled parliamentary business had been cleared for the special joint gathering which was allocated two and a half hours, but due to lack of participation ended after one hour and seven minutes.
Dennis Lister, House of Assembly Speaker, who was elected a PLP MP, but is now considered neutral due to his parliamentary role, also offered praise for the Queen.
Mr Lister said that some 30 of the 46 sitting members of the House of Assembly and Senate were present for the occasion.
He told The Royal Gazette: “Everybody had an equal opportunity to speak. I can’t say as to why people spoke or did not speak.”
Mr Burt, who is attending the Queen’s funeral at Westminster Abbey on Monday, said the late monarch led “an historic life of committed service and incomparable duty”.
He added: “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II lived an incredible, almost surreal, life.
“One of great privilege, but also a life dominated by certain core ideals to which we can all relate irrespective of her elevated status.”
Mr Burt recalled the Queen's visit to Bermuda in 2009, which culminated in a state dinner hosted by then premier Ewart Brown.
He said “The intrigue of the evening surrounded that local delicacy cassava pie. After some diplomatic assurances from her host, I am pleased to share that the royal palate can be said to have sampled that unique Bermudian dish.”
Cole Simons, the OBA leader, brought up the subject of colonial oppression during his remarks.
He said: “Despite the divisions, opinions of many reporting the legacy of violent atrocities during the dark days of colonialism, the overwhelming sentiment on the death of the Queen is to be of sorrow, loss and the loss of a family member whether we were connected by blood, or just a member of the public.”
Praising the Queen’s commitment to the Commonwealth, Mr Simons said that on the two occasions he met the Queen they discussed their shared love of equestrian sports.
A string of Progressive Labour Party MPs were absent from the House of Assembly for a special session on the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.
Many could not be contacted for comment.
Derrick Burgess, the Deputy Speaker, said he did not attend because of “health and safety, for Covid-19”, noting that virtual attendance was not set up for the gathering.
Lovitta Foggo, a PLP back bench MP, said she was unable to attend, adding: “There is no reason.”
Christopher Famous, another MP, said he was off the island and unable to attend, saying the sitting had been “a last-minute arrangement”.
Ianthia Simmons-Wade, also a PLP back bench MP, said simply that she was “not able to make it”.
Two MPs contacted who declined to comment said they were absent for personal reasons.
During the session, Mr Lister remembered the Queen’s visit in 2009 when he greeted Prince Philip at Dockyard and the image was flashed around the world because the Duke of Edinburgh wore a “colourful pair of Bermuda shorts”.
Paying tribute to the Queen’s service, Mr Lister said: "It's not often that we have joint sittings, in my memory having been one of the longest-serving members in parliament, I can only think of a couple as I stand here right now.“
At the end of the truncated session, Mr Lister told MPs and senators to enjoy the public holiday on Monday which was called to commemorate the Queen on the day of her funeral and to "remember the reason for the holiday, and take time to reflect".
Mr Swan said he was also speaking on behalf of his wife, who received an honour from the Queen this year, as well as people who were in the United Bermuda Party, who were part of the group that led the late Queen around the country on earlier visits.
He said: “The example that we in this country need to take, whether you be for independence, like I, or a royalist, like my wife, or closet royalist like many in this country, I say that all of us need to take the page out of the book of service and commitment.”
Michael Dunkley, a former OBA premier, said his “heart is sorry today” as he recalled being “blessed” with an audience with Queen.
He said the Queen refused to talk politics but instead shared how she enjoyed her visit to Bermuda and asked about Dunkley's Dairy's process of producing milk.
Craig Cannonier, another former OBA premier, recalled meeting King Charles III when he was Prince of Wales and noted his “dry humour” which he believed the Queen shared.
History is made up not of our opinion of the moment but how we respond. The death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II needs neither rhetoric nor political ideology. Rather, it is an opportunity to display the qualities Bermudian known for – dignity, civility, and respect. We are polite to a fault, honest in our affairs and optimistic in our challenges.
The Joint Sitting of the Legislature, a rare enough occasion in our storied history, did not reflect that.
Of the Members of the House of Assembly and Senate, composed of some 47 persons out of the 60,000 plus residents of Bermuda, only 14 spoke at all. Nine of whom, were members of the Loyal Opposition.
We, the Parliament and people of Bermuda, marked the occasion, not by consoling a family anguished in the loss of their matriarch, but rather with formal, stony and cold silence. An event scheduled to last from 10am to 12.30pm, was concluded in less than half that time.
The role of the monarchy was not being debated. But rather, this motion: “That this Honourable House conveys its deepest sorrow on the death of Her Majesty The Queen; expresses its sincere condolences to His Majesty The King and other members of the Royal Family and acknowledges her association with Bermuda and her people.”
We, as Bermudians, have accepted the honours of our association with the United Kingdom including military ranks, knighthoods and memberships in Royal Orders. We have accepted life-saving Covid vaccines. The United Kingdom continues to accept our economic refugees who have no natural place in the United States, or Canada or Australia or the other dozens of members of the Commonwealth. We have close economic and cultural ties to Liverpool, Manchester, and London.
If we are to still benefit from these things, then the very least we can do is offer more than tepid condolences.
Asked about the lack of vocal PLP participation in the joint session of parliament, a spokesman said: "The party leader offered a fulsome tribute and there is also a tribute on the government's website.
“Other MPs came out to support those sentiments.
“The premier shall extend his condolences in London along with other world leaders at Monday's funeral.
“We are thankful that under our parliamentary democracy with the monarch as the titular head of state, the King now, and the Queen before, afforded all parliamentarians and indeed all subjects the right to freely choose to speak or not speak on any given topic."
The MPs and senators passed a motion “conveying deepest sorry on the death of Her Majesty the Queen” and recognising “her association with Bermuda and her people.”
Despite being the first parliamentary session in person since Covid-19 restrictions were eased, the Press was excluded from the joint session of Parliament.