[Updating] Government today [Dec 13] announced a reversal on their pledge to hold a referendum on gambling, stating that there will be no referendum and the matter will be decided by a vote in Parliament.
Premier Craig Cannonier said after conversations with members of the Opposition, it was made clear that “the referendum process will be undermined if we don’t meet their demands to change the wording of the question.”
“It is clear to us that the Opposition’s political ambitions have moved ahead of the people’s business, and that the threat to disrupt the referendum, such as a boycott, is real,” said the Premier.
The PLP rejected this assertion, with Derrick Burgess saying, “To lie about the PLP’s position and attempt to blame the PLP for the OBA decision to stifle the people’s voice and break their promise to the people is disheartening.”
Update: Premier Cannonier making the announcement today
This opens the door to a higher chance the island will have casinos, as whereas a referendum was seen by some as having various possible outcomes. The OBA hold the majority of votes in Parliament, so it could be considered likely to pass.
At 11am this morning, the Premier was due to read the Gambling Referendum Act in the House of Assembly for the second time, but “carried it over”, giving an indication of what was to come.
Speaking after that, Shadow Tourism Minister Wayne Furbert said, “The PLP is very surprised that the Premier would delay debate on the Referendum Bill.
“After a year of delays it gives the impression that the OBA is on the verge of breaking another election promise,” said Mr Furbert.
This announcement, which had been rumoured as a possibility, comes after statements that a referendum would be held on the matter.
Last month the Government tabled the Referendum Act 2013, saying the public would be asked: “Do you favour the introduction of regulated casino gaming for the purposes of creating new jobs for Bermudians and encouraging hotel development.”
In August 2013, a Government spokesperson said there is “no change to the government’s position on Gaming. As promised, we remain committed to the Referendum process.”
Update: The Q&A with the Premier at the press conference today
During the run up to the 2012 General Election, the OBA pledged to hold a referendum multiple times, and their election material [PDF] stated they would hold a referendum on casino gaming.
In 2011 when the OBA was in Opposition, Patricia Gordon-Pamplin said, “The OBA has already said that the issue of gaming should be put to a referendum preceded by a comprehensive education campaign.
“This would highlight the pros and cons of the proposal and enable the public to render the most informed decision,” said Ms Gordon-Pamplin.
The Chamber of Commerce previously said they were in favour of gaming, but not a referendum, saying…”cost is another very important reason to forgo a referendum, as a considerable sum would have to be spent on a campaign to provide information to the public and prepare for a referendum.”
The press conference is still underway as of this writing, and we will update with details as able.
Update 1.46pm: The Premier’s full statement follows below
I’ve asked you here today to announce a decision that will no doubt surprise some in the community.
It is tied to harsh realities that Bermudians have been living with for far too long; realities that will become an entrenched and destructive part of Island life if we do not do all we can to change them.
I am referring to the curse of unemployment that is damaging people’s lives every day – hurting families, derailing hopes and draining morale.
Since the election a year ago, the Government has moved with urgency on a broad front to grow jobs.
We have put in place measures to stimulate job growth, but it is not yet enough to get the thousands who remain without work back on the job. People need relief and hope now.
One of the main targets of our Jobs and Economic Turnaround Plan is the revival of Bermuda Tourism – the one industry with the greatest potential to grow jobs for Bermudians.
We are on the verge of launching the Tourism Authority to bring more focused professional leadership to the business of getting more visitors to our shores.
And we have taken concrete steps to move ahead with gaming – a vital component of our Tourism revival strategy.
With gaming, we are confident we can attract investor dollars for the construction of new hotels and visitor activities.
Without it, we believe we will severely damage our prospects for recovery, shutting down possibilities for thousands of able-bodied Bermudians to find the jobs they need to support their families.
The OBA’s approach to the question of gaming has always been based on the community deciding the matter through a referendum.
Two weeks ago, we tabled the Gaming Referendum Act with a question that said exactly why we were moving forward with gaming. That question read as follows:
“Do you favour the introduction of regulated casino gaming for the purposes of creating new jobs for Bermudians and encouraging hotel development?”
Jobs was the point of the question, and we make no apologies about its wording.
This week, after conversations with members of the Opposition, it was made clear to us that the referendum process will be undermined if we don’t meet their demands to change the wording of the question.
Earlier this year the Opposition Leader said he and his colleagues would support gaming if the Government brought the matter to the House without a referendum.
His party’s “support” for gaming at the time, and in other statements, simply does not square with the threat this week to undermine the referendum exercise.
It is clear to us that the Opposition’s political ambitions have moved ahead of the people’s business, and that the threat to disrupt the referendum, such as a boycott, is real.
As the Government of Bermuda, we will not stand for it. We will not play politics with people’s jobs. We will not play politics with opportunities to help people pay their bills and put food on the table.
This matter is too important for political games.
We were elected to fix the economy, to grow jobs and end the misery thousands are feeling each day because the economy is no longer big enough to support them. We cannot allow politics to undermine opportunities for Bermudians.
All energies must be focused on doing what we can to grow the economy. So many futures depend on it.
And so today, the Government will not proceed with the Gaming Referendum Act. This means there will be no referendum on gaming.
Instead, gaming will be brought to the House of Assembly in the form of legislation, where it will be either passed or rejected by vote.
In the weeks to come, we will announce a schedule of events for this to happen, including a public information and consultation campaign on the plan for gaming, making sure all aspects of the issue are addressed.
We recognize this decision breaks an platform pledge, but we made a more important pledge to the people and that was to create jobs.
Now, our job is to do what we believe is right for the country, and that means not allowing the risk of politics to damage people’s chances for jobs and a better life.
We will not risk the future.
Update 1.59pm: Acting PLP Leader Derrick Burgess’ full statement
The OBA have misled the people of Bermuda again and broken another election promise. Their dishonourable actions today have further damaged the credibility of the Government of Bermuda and weakened trust in our political process.
To lie about the PLP’s position and attempt to blame the PLP for the OBA decision to stifle the people’s voice and break their promise to the people is disheartening. At NO time have the PLP advocated a boycott of the referendum. To say otherwise is a boldfaced lie.
The PLP is clear that this should go to the people and we are perplexed of the OBA’s complete disregard for the democratic process on this important issue and attempting to shift the blame for a decision they made onto the PLP.
What does this say about the Premier’s character and integrity that he would willfully and knowingly deceive the people with such a boldfaced lie.
The OBA history of lies, reversals, mixed messages, contradictions, and flip flops are undermining confidence in the OBA at a time when Bermudians need to know that they can trust their government.
The fact that the OBA would break another election promise isn’t surprising, they have done it many times before, however on this issue they have reversed themselves after a year of repeatedly declaring that they would not bypass the people on this decision.
What has changed in the last 3 weeks that has caused the OBA to pull a bill that they tabled 2 weeks ago? Who benefits from the OBA breaking this promise? The people of Bermuda deserve an answer.
That answer cannot be making up stories about the PLP, the OBA have made this decision and they must explain to the people why they do not trust them to make the best choice for Bermuda.
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