Opposition’s plan: play the blame gameMarch 4, 2016 - Author: bdadmin
“This government has failed to produce the jobs promised; they have failed to improve education; they have failed at tourism; they have failed in providing hope and opportunity to Bermudians. Their term in office will be remembered as the great Bermuda exodus, where Bermudians were forced to flee their homeland to search for opportunities elsewhere.”
— Shadow Minister of Finance David Burt, PLP Reply to the Budget 2016
Part one of this column gave consideration to where the Bermuda economy would be had the Progressive Labour Party been re-elected. Part two questions where the PLP may take us, and we’ll look to the Opposition’s 2016 Budget reply for an answer.
When I read Mr Burt’s claim that the One Bermuda Alliance’s term in office shall be known as “the great Bermuda exodus”, I was floored by disbelief. Why? Because it’s commonly understood that any time you have a new government, there will be a hangover from the former administration.
It takes time to put in new policies and it takes time to rebuild investor confidence. Therefore, if a significant number of Bermudians departed at the end of a protracted recession, common sense dictates that it would be because of the hangover effect from the former administration, instead of owing to the handful of policy changes that the OBA has made during its short 3¼ years in power.
But let’s not rely exclusively on common sense. The 2016 Budget statement contains data that sheds some light on our population trends. If you read the section on demographics, you will find Chart 9, which shows the ratio of births to deaths. The chart quite clearly shows the ratio falling dramatically from 2004 through 2014. In other words, fewer babies were being born in Bermuda during that ten-year period.
One likely contributing factor is that emigration had already begun, and this was confirmed by the Department of Statistics’ January 2013 Report on Emigration. There, you will learn that 1,121 persons actually emigrated from Bermuda between 2000 and 2010. You will also learn that detailed information was collected for 974 persons who emigrated, of which 70 per cent were Bermudian. The report also states that “emigration flows were highest (41 per cent) during the period 2007 to 2009”.
We can also refer to the Department of Statistics’ February 2014 report on population projections from 2010 to 2020. This report shows that the annual growth rate for the population was projected to show greater declines in years 2010, 2011 and 2012.
More relevant to Burt’s remarks, the report shows projected net migration numbers of -1,190 for 2010, -1,216 for 2011, -822 for 2012, -484 for 2013, -196 for 2014 and -180 for 2015. Yes, the projected emigration numbers were greater under the PLP.
Perhaps this data explains what Burt was really talking about during his first Budget reply in March 2013. Hardly three months into the OBA’s term, he had this to say: “Mr Speaker, also key to expanding our Bermudian labour force is luring Bermudians who are throughout the diaspora back to our shores. Our country needs this lost talent; this is a national economic imperative.
“We can bring them home to a Bermuda that provides secure employment, a high standard of living, safe streets, affordable housing, an excellent public school system, and wages and costs that allow our citizens to invest and save for retirement.”
Burt’s 2013 comment suggests that the PLP already knew what was going on. So if one was inclined to accept a gentrification conspiracy theory, they should reflect on the data and accuse the PLP of trying to drive Bermudians out.
And what about the rest of the PLP’s Budget reply? For me, the most interesting thing is that the PLP has stopped promoting cannabis tourism as a diversification strategy. Beyond that, the reply is once again little more than a long list of things that it thinks we need or want, but nevertheless can’t afford because of our compromised circumstances.
Even more troubling: the Budget reply seeks to malign revenue targeting projects such as the America’s Cup; it speaks to increasing efficiencies in the Civil Service while sidestepping the need to reduce headcount; and it also pretends that we can just snap our fingers and create competitive new industries such as FinTech and online gambling.
Whereas the OBA’s Budget statement presents a thorough, sober discussion on where we are, where we need to go and how we will get there, the PLP’s “vision” is unrealistic and completely lacking in substance. As a consequence of not having a viable strategy of its own, it is attempting to blame the OBA for its fiscal track record.
Let’s not kid ourselves. The PLP is a heavily divided, antagonistic party with an atrocious track record. It is a party that can’t even bring order and stability to Alaska Hall, so how could it possibly fix something as complex as Bermuda’s struggling economy? The lack of practical, well thought-out solutions in the Budget reply demonstrates that it cannot. And given this painful fact, it has little option but to try to mislead the electorate on highly sensitive topics such as emigration.
• To reach out to Bryant Trew, e-mail: email@example.com