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The year that was – what will 2023 bring?

Curtis Dickinson, the ex-finance minister, and David Burt, the Premier, minutes after the PLP leadership result was announced in October (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

They broke up on Valentine’s Day and the bitter political split at the top of government sizzled down through the year.

The sudden separation between David Burt and Curtis Dickinson, the former finance minister, over economic policy even saw them fight for custody of the Progressive Labour Party in a slow-burning battle that exploded into life in its final days.

In the end, Mr Burt won out, but at a margin tighter than many predicted.

This followed a rocky start to the year for the Government with massive demand on the Covid-19 testing system seeing a last minute delay to promised school opening times and scenes at the airport described as “chaotic” owing to passenger problems with the controversial Travel Authorisation system.

That scientist Carika Weldon had predicted the system failures and relayed her fears to the Government over Christmas before quitting her key post as director of the Molecular Diagnostics and Research Laboratory did not make ministerial apologies sound any better.

The beginning of the year saw two resignations from the Senate in quick succession. Curtis Richardson quit the upper chamber after an ongoing dispute over rent arrears left his elderly former landlady crying in the Supreme Court over the situation.

Weeks later, Marcus Jones, One Bermuda Alliance leader in the upper chamber, was also out after some controversial remarks regarding how women and girls dressed.

But the political year really burst into life on February 14, when Mr Dickinson walked out of Cabinet just days before the Budget. Seven months later he would announced his bid to become the Progressive Labour Party leader.

The campaign was initially low-level, apart from the odd rumble from the Dickinson camp that the names of the 124 elected delegates, who along with the party’s 30 MPs would decide the outcome of the contest, were not being handed over in a timely fashion.

He pulled out of one of the two scheduled debates with just hours to spare as he accused the PLP leadership of not coming through with format conditions they had agreed to.

The build-up to the only debate of the contest intensified as Mr Dickinson took off the gloves and accused the Premier of being a “liar” who was leading Bermuda “to the brink” economically.

Mr Burt insisted he had a strong record to stand on and won the contest 97 to 56 – a clear majority, but closer than some observers had expected.

Following the victory, Mr Burt brushed aside the advice of one of his predecessors as PLP premier, Alex Scott, who warned him to try to come across as less of an autocrat.

Mr Burt’s next move was to fire Mr Scott’s son, Lawrence Scott, as transport minister, but, of course, it was nothing to do with the ex-premier’s critique of his leadership style.

Ernest Peets was also axed from Cabinet, but there was no repeat of the public he said/she said spat when Renée Ming insisted she had quit the top team in March while the Premier stated that he had fired her as national security minister.

As happened at the beginning of the year, ministerial apologies were the order of the day as the Government’s much trumpeted $15 million bid to alleviate growing concerns about the spiralling cost-of-living situation was beset with roll-out delays after being announced in July.

The one-off $150 “back to school” payment failed to materialise before pupils returned to the classroom in September, and the $500,000 push for free LED light bulbs to ease energy bills has still not been switched on.

On April 1, Mr Burt signalled to MPs a deal with developer Gencom over the proposed $376 million revamp of the Fairmont Southampton hotel complex was imminent.

He would repeat the statement a number of times throughout the year, but the deal – the reason Mr Dickinson walked out of Cabinet because he felt the guarantees for the project placed too risky a burden on taxpayers – has still not been finalised.

Mr Burt had predicted relations with London would hit a new low if Britain blocked moves to give Bermudians the right to a “legal high” by allowing consumption and production of cannabis, but, when the widely expected refusal came, the Premier’s predicted “destruction” of relations with Britain failed to materialise – so far.

Mr Dickinson said that while he was in Cabinet it was expected that Britain would refuse Royal Assent – the signature to become law – for the Cannabis Licensing Bill, as it compromised Britain’s international obligations.

This fuelled OBA conspiracy theories that the whole agenda was a ruse to push a pro-independence line.

And then, at the November Throne Speech, the Government announced it had commissioned an analysis on self-governance at the cost of $50,000 to the taxpayer.

When Queen Elizabeth II died in September, Mr Burt used the visit to London to attend the state funeral, to say independence was the island’s destiny.

After repeated statements that the $40 TA charge would stay in place until March 2023, the Government finally gave in to pressure and abandoned it as the official Covid-19 emergency ended in November.

And there were not just rumblings of discontent in the PLP, as Opposition leader Cole Simons faced open questions about hisstyle of management and low public profile.

Deputy leader Jarion Richardson stepped into the controversy stating that while he supported Mr Simons, there were things that could be “done better” by him.

Mr Simons came out fighting in December, saying he wanted tax rises for the rich and pledging to make same-sex marriage a priority after the Privy Council’s ruling that the Government had not acted unconstitutionally in putting the Domestic Partnership Act into law.

But he faced renewed internal criticism when he questioned OBA parliamentary tactics while he was abroad, which saw House of Assembly business end early in farce because the PLP did not field enough MPs for it to continue.

Mr Simons also insisted he did not view Mr Richardson as a threat.

Moving into the new year, the Government is proposing major payroll tax reforms, while the Fiscal Responsibility Panel is strongly warning against the very type of publicly funded guarantees that have been offered to Gencom.

With the $16.40 hourly minimum wage due to begin in June, some warned it could price people out of the jobs market, while the PLP insisted it was a bold social justice step forward.

With the Government’s four key areas of economic stimulus — vertical farming, Tynes Bay, introducing casinos, and the development of North East Hamilton — already making slow progress, a worsening international financial situation could signal a turbulent 12 months ahead.

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Published January 05, 2023 at 7:56 am (Updated January 05, 2023 at 7:32 am)

The year that was – what will 2023 bring?

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