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Cole Simons retires from politics

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Cole Simons has stood down as leader of the One Bermuda Alliance on his 71st birthday (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Cole Simons has stood down as leader of the One Bermuda Alliance, setting the stage for what could be a battle for power in the party.

The outgoing OBA leader is also resigning as an MP after 25 years, prompting a by-election for his Smith’s South (Constituency 8) seat in the near future.

Mr Simons, speaking on his 71st birthday yesterday, denied that colleagues had put pressure on him to quit during the summer parliamentary recess.

However, The Royal Gazette understands that a number of senior party figures had made it clear to Mr Simons in recent months that they considered his position as leader untenable.

Cole Simons has stood down as leader of the One Bermuda Alliance on his 71st birthday (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The party has not yet revealed the timetable for replacing Mr Simons, but deputy leader Jarion Richardson, who is the favourite to take the helm of the party, will act as Opposition leader while events unfold.

Mr Richardson is expected to declare for the leadership, with speculation in the party that he could face a challenge from Susan Jackson, the Shadow Minister of Transport.

Mr Simons was involved in a bruising public spat with OBA MPs this year over his response to the Budget.

One OBA MP described it as “botched” after Mr Simons said the party would reintroduce the deeply unpopular Travel Authorisation fee if it returned to power at the next General Election.

Mr Simons was forced to make a public apology to party colleagues for not consulting with them on the issue.

However, he insisted that incident was not connected with his departure and denied MPs had put pressure on him to quit.

Mr Simons told a press conference: “Not at all.”

He said that rebuilding the party after its shattering defeat in the October 2020 General Election, which left it with only six out of the 36 seats in the House of Assembly, had been his biggest success.

Cole Simons retirement speech

Good day members of the media,

Today, my heart is filled with a whirlwind of emotions as I announce my retirement from the position of Leader of the Opposition, and as a Member of Parliament, after 25 years of dedicated parliamentary service to Bermuda. This decision weighs heavily on my soul, as it marks the end of an era that has shaped my life in ways words cannot fully express.

Throughout this remarkable journey, I have been privileged to represent the families of Constituency No 8 (Smith’s South), and the old Constituency 9 (Smith’s North). The unwavering support and trust bestowed upon me by the people of Bermuda have been nothing short of awe-inspiring. From the depths of my heart, I extend my deepest gratitude for believing in me and allowing me to serve you.

In contemplating my retirement, I find solace in the wise words of the Oklahoma Sooners head coach Bob Stoops, whose surprising departure from coaching resonated with me deeply. “Everything has its time,” he said, and those words have echoed in my mind throughout my leadership journey. Leadership, no matter how impactful, is transient, and I believe in the importance of making way for fresh perspectives and ideas.

The decision to retire was not an easy one to make. Last summer, I embarked on a soul-searching journey to assess the impact of my service and the accomplishments achieved. With unwavering conviction, I believe that now is the right time to step back and make room for the next generation of leaders, while cherishing precious moments with my family that I have often sacrificed along the way.

As I reflect on the milestones achieved throughout my career, I cannot help but feel immense pride over the OBA’s achievements and my own personal accomplishments. Despite the crushing 2020 General Election defeat, less than three years later, the One Bermuda Alliance dug deep, looked at ways to improve and today is rebuilt, and stands strong with a solid governance structure. We also have an ever-increasing group of fresh faces, who are all committed to putting their shoulders to the wheel and will continue to hold the feet of the PLP to the fire on behalf of the people of Bermuda.

Under the OBA government, Bermuda witnessed unprecedented economic growth and development through significant projects like the Loren hotel, St Regis hotel, the Azura hotel and the Cambridge Beach Hotel redevelopment. We brought the prestigious America’s Cup to Bermuda in 2017 and secured a colossal investment from Aecon for the development of our award-winning LF Wade International Airport. Our economy was undeniably on a growth trajectory and our people were beginning to experience its benefits.

On a personal level, my work as Minister of the Environment resulted in substantial progress on the Hamilton Declaration and the Sargasso Sea initiative, garnering international support for preserving our natural resources. Moreover, I laid the groundwork for Bermuda’s first Ocean Risk Summit, bringing together global leaders to address vital ocean-health issues.

Beyond these accomplishments, I am also proud of my work as the Minister of Education. By collaborating with students, teachers, principals, parents, the staff at the Ministry Headquarters and the Bermuda Union of Teachers, we made significant strides in laying a solid foundation for the educational system. It was inspiring and remarkable to see private and public school leaders coming together to share ideas and solutions for the betterment of our students’ education.

Other exciting events which warm my heart is witnessing the development of Bermuda’s youth who are today addressing our social challenges and reaching the upper echelons of influence in reputable hospitals, universities and in the arts locally and internationally.

In addition it was an honour and privilege to represent, and speak on behalf Bermuda and other small Commonwealth Parliamentary Association countries, in Africa, the Maldives, the United Kingdom and the Caribbean. It was also awesome to see democracy at work as an observer in a few Overseas Territories’ national elections.

However, amid the triumphs, there are certain regrets that I still carry in my heart, such as the glaring failure to adequately address youth violence and the ongoing tragic loss of life through road rage and road traffic accidents, which all deeply sadden me.

Sadly, it appears as though we are beginning to accept these risks and deaths are a way of life, and no government has been able to conquer these challenges. Over the past 25 years, we have sent so many sincere prayers and messages of our condolences to hundreds of families. As a nation, we cannot become hardened to these tragic and often unnecessary losses. We all must work harder to protect our youth and ensure safer roads for all.

Equally disturbing and sad for me is seeing the thousands of Bermudians and Bermudian families emigrating to the United Kingdom for economic opportunities, healthcare access and for career opportunities.

Another deep regret is the erosion of respect and decorum within Parliament for the institution itself and for its Members. When I first entered politics in 1998, there were ladies and gentlemen in the House and in the Senate, such as: Dame Pamela Gordon, the Honourable C.V. Jim Woolridge, the Honourable Kim Young, the Honourable Madeline Joell, the Honourable Grant Gibbons, the Honourable Erwin Adderley, the Honourable Eugene Cox, the Honourable Alex Scott, the Honourable Paula Cox, the Honourable Reginald Burrows, the Honourable Reverend Larry Lowe, Speaker the Honourable Stanley Lowe, Dame Lois Browne-Evans and Dame Jennifer Smith. Like all parliaments, we jostled with each other in lively debates in Chamber, but respect for one another was always present. We led the country by example. Unfortunately, this is not the case today.

Allow me to also share one of the most bizarre incidents in my political career, which caused both international and local turmoil and division. In 2009, unbeknown to many of Bermuda’s Cabinet ministers, and the people of Bermuda, the then Premier, the Honourable Ewart Brown stealthily brought four Chinese Muslim Uighur detainees to live in Bermuda after serving years as US detainees at Guantánamo Bay. This caused global headlines and a real firestorm. The degree and scope of shock and unease was palpable. Emotions ran high as the people of Bermuda were shocked and upset. In Bermuda’s Parliament, a Cabinet minister resigned over the decision. Notably, it was the first and only time that I witnessed Members of Parliament soothing their fellow colleagues, as they were at their wit’s end and were emotionally depleted. The shock waves then reverberated from Government House to the UK Government and on to China. After a hostile, 14-hour debate in our Parliament over a vote of no confidence, Dr Brown survived.

This precedent-setting decision became a defining moment in Bermuda’s parliamentary history, carving a wedge of division and turmoil at all levels, which has yet to be repaired.

As a nation we faced the global pandemic of Covid-19, which brought us to a literal standstill. I applaud the Government, the One Bermuda Alliance, and leaders of businesses, both local and international, for working together through this unprecedented crisis. With legislative support, we were able to make our way through the uncharted waters of the pandemic together. I also wholeheartedly applaud the people of Bermuda for their assistance and support, who despite the numerous restrictions that were imposed on them, remained calm and co-operative. That is the Bermudian spirit at its best.

Despite these highs and lows, I can with hand on heart state that serving the people of Bermuda and representing them as the Leader of the Opposition has been one of the highest honours of my life. I leave with a heart full of enduring gratitude for the trust your people placed in me. The future of our nation is bright and is in capable hands. Undoubtedly, there will be further challenges along the way – that’s life. Those barriers are there for us to dig deep, to climb over or go around and collectively refine our path. We must continue to strive for a fairer and more prosperous Bermuda.

Thank you, Bermuda, and to every one of you, for being part of this incredible journey with me. Your support has meant the world to me. I will continue to carry your love and encouragement in my heart as I move on to the next chapter of my life.

With my utmost sincerity and gratitude,

Again, thank you.

N.H. Cole Simons

Asked what his biggest mistake was, Mr Simons said: “I don’t see my issues as mistakes.

“I see them as hurdles that will make me and organisations a better person, and it helps refine us.”

Asked if his soon-abandoned reintroduction of TA fees initiative was a mistake, he said: “It’s questionable.”

He denied that his MPs had not supported him enough, stating: “My team has always been behind me.

Cole Simons has stood down as leader of the One Bermuda Alliance on his 71st birthday (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

“We have had our differences, and that’s life, and that’s how we grow as a diverse organisation.”

Describing it as an emotional day, Mr Simons said he wanted to spend more time with his family.

He said: “I am available to help, but not full time. I will spend more time with my family and my new grandchildren.

“I have neglected it in this role as leader, and so there are things that I want to do.”

Mr Simons has been Leader of the Opposition since November 2020 and previously served as environment minister and Minister of Education.

He said that as he left the political stage he regretted that more had not been done to combat youth violence and loss of life on the island’s roads.

Mr Simons lamented the “wedge of division and turmoil” in Bermudian politics that had surfaced in recent years.

OBA members will choose the new leader, who must come from among the remaining five MPs, if there is a contest for the post.

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Published August 09, 2023 at 8:03 am (Updated August 09, 2023 at 8:03 am)

Cole Simons retires from politics

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