Co-operative banks and supermarkets will empower Bermudians to challenge the island’s status quo, David Burt said last night.
Speaking at the opening night of the Progressive Labour Party’s delegates conference, the Premier said entrepreneurs could sidestep traditional banking if the Government repatriates some of the billions invested overseas through the National Pension Scheme.
Mr Burt repeatedly promised to “get controversial” and touched on immigration reform, telling the descendants of those he said had benefited from past policies that comprehensive reform was coming, but that “it will not be your father’s immigration policy”.
To a round of applause from the a audience at the St Paul AME Centennial Hall in Hamilton, the premier pledged that a government body would be tasked with reviewing foreclosures on homes “to ensure that banks are acting in a fair manner”.
Shortly after opening, he warned: “Fasten your seatbelts.”
Nick Kempe, the One Bermuda Alliance shadow finance minister, was among the hundreds attending the public meeting, themed “Transforming Bermuda, Transforming Ourselves”.
Mr Burt told the audience that Bermuda had “two types of people”: those for and those against a status quo that had disadvantaged its majority black residents.
As an example, Mr Burt cited his decision to break with the Westminster system’s traditions, adding: “Look at the furore set off by skipping the Throne Speech for one year.”
The Premier was one of several speakers from th leadership, with Diallo Rabain, the education minister, warning of “an uncomfortable and necessary conversation” about the “repurposing and realigning” the island’s primary-school system.
Mr Rabain said that talks would have to be held alongside the move to axe middle schools.
He added that a change to the network of 18 primary schools would mean better use of resources and that talks would need to be “at arm’s length from politics”.
Other speakers were party chairman Damon Wade; Alicia Kirby, the youth wing leader, and Jache Adams, the PLP treasurer.
Mr Adams touched on the need for economic empowerment, saying political power was insufficient to change Bermuda.
But Mr Burt’s speech dominated the night, as he told the crowd of supporters: “We must never lose sight of who the real enemies of progress are.”
People who oppose his party’s plan are vested in those who “maintain control” of the wealth and economy, he said.
The Premier added: “The structure of the economy is not set up to reduce costs, or to make life easiest for the working class.
“It’s not who is managing the system. It’s the system itself.”
One of the night’s main pledges was to use recent legislation for the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation to start businesses that would “keep local companies honest while providing relief to many in this country”.
He said: “Not only will we start these companies — all of you will have the option to become shareholders.”
Mr Burt said the island’s high food prices were fuelled in part by entrenched middlemen that kept costs up to 15 per cent higher, citing a conversation with an unnamed supermarket owner in the lead-up to the last General Election.
He said entrepreneurs would access investment, in part by tapping into more than $3 billion in pension funds, now invested overseas by the island’s top insurers.
Mr Burt said many would ask: “Where will we get the money, Premier? We’re barely about to save as it is. We do not have money to start our own supermarket. But guess what, family? Yes, we can.”
To applause, he added: “The hopes and dreams of entrepreneurs who wish to compete with established, generational wealth, can no longer be deferred.”
He said that supporters of Bermuda’s traditional way of business would never stop criticising the PLP.
Mr Burt added: “We were not elected to serve their interests. If there is one regret I have over the last two years, it is being too deferential to the interests that will never support our party’s aims.”
He said: “We have done it their way for 50 years, and it has not worked for the people of Bermuda. Enough is enough.”
Mr Burt said that on November 15 in Parliament, he would go over the list of the PLP’s 52 objectives from last year’s Throne Speech, 19 of which he said were fully completed, with 33 “in progress”.
New issues raised by the party’s caucus would go into a “top 20” for the Government’s agenda, including creating co-operative businesses with the island’s unions, providing unemployment insurance, and the repurposing of school buildings for alternative education.
• To read David Burt’s speech in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”
• The Progressive Labour Party conference resumes today, with all delegates asked to return to St Paul AME Church hall at 5.30pm