Column: Economic Growth Is Important

July 18, 2017

[Opinion column written by John Barritt]

It is the economy stupid. The refrain is familiar enough, thanks to Bill Clinton and his first U.S. Presidential campaign. Here at home, our economy and Bermuda’s economic recovery is a big issue in this year’s election campaign. In fact, some would have you believe that it is the only issue, or that it should be.

But don’t be too quick to be so sure.

Economic growth is important, absolutely. It enhances the prospects for stability in the community, economically , of course, socially and, yes, politically as well. But it doesn’t end there.

Stability in my books also depends to an even bigger extent on the belief or the sense that we are all in this boat together, that we belong together and we will stand by each other in times of challenge or crisis. In short, it also depends on a legacy of social trust; that we can trust each other to have each others’ backs.

Trust however, depends in large part on institutions that foster collaboration and its twin sister, collective decision making, when tackling the big issues and problems that will invariably confront us.

A sense of belonging comes about when people have ways of resolving their disputes, ways of getting together, ways of cooperating and collaborating, that develop a sort of social bond where strong but differing opinions are held and positions advanced based on different experiences.

This bond is fundamentally important. It is what underpins a successful economy and hold us together as a community. It is also why how we are governed is equally important to any future success we might enjoy as a community.

But regrettably a collaborative approach has not been a feature of our politics or of our system of governance as it has developed over the near 50 years since Bermuda adopted responsible government back in 1968.

It is well past time for a change and real change must start at the top.

A far more active committee system in the Legislature is a good place to begin and the opportunity to collaborate shouldn’t just be a first option. It should be the required first option of our legislators.

Don’t tell me it cannot work. It can and it does. I recall the elections committee that was struck by the House about a year after the last election. Members from both parties came up with some unanimous recommendations. They included the establishment of an independent electoral commission to tackle important issues like: the absentee ballot, fixed term elections and campaign finance reform. They reported back in March 2014.

The only failure some three plus years later is that Government failed to move on any of those recommendations.

The Boundaries Commission is another example of what works.

Look back and reflect and ask yourself this: have there been other major events and issues that could have benefited from a more collaborative approach right from the outset? Like the America’s Cup or Pathways to Status and immigration reform or the airport redevelopment project?

If we are going to bridge the divides that continue to separate us, political or racial, then the means to connect and collaborate and work through our challenges must become a feature of our system of government. Such vehicles, both parliamentary and extra-parliamentary, will not only promote community. They will serve to demonstrate community in action.

We desperately need to start to build a system that moves off the zero-sum mindset that bedevils our politics that comes to this: it’s either thus or them. We know only too well how that movie ends. It is frankly the very definition of insanity: continuing to do the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.

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