The One Bermuda Alliance is in an unexpected quandary over the recent Supreme Court decision which seems to pave the way for Permanent Residency Certificate (PRC) holders to attain status.
That should not diminish the fact that the Progressive Labour Party is, or should be, in as much of a quandary over this issue. In other words, surprise, surprise, both are being slightly hypocritical, or at least not completely forthright about why they are so unhappy with the OBA’s alleged foot dragging on this.
By way of background, the way the PRC legislation was drafted (by the PLP government) left a loophole which would enable PRC-holders to get Bermuda status. This was confirmed in Supreme Court.
To be sure, that was not the intent of the legislation (quite the opposite, in fact) but the reality is that this was PLP legislation which was poorly drafted, and it’s a little rich for the PLP to now be chastising the OBA for not moving fast enough to correct a mistake of its making.
The reality is that the PLP is looking at this almost solely through the perspective of votes. it believes, with some reason, that the majority of the 1,000-plus PRC holders who might now be eligible for status would not vote for them and would tend towards the OBA. Never mind that this might have something to do with the PLP’s tendency towards xenophobia and race-baiting, especially at election time.
One thousand votes would make a difference in a general election, tipping many marginal seats towards the OBA and away from the PLP, or so the thinking goes.
OBA strategists will be fully aware of this as well.
However, there is another, less short-sighted way of looking at this as well.
Bermuda has lost around 4,000 residents in the last five years (one of the fun things about living in Bermuda is that no one can put an exact figure on this). There is a good deal of talk about the need to increase the population in order to make the economy function again.
The PRCs (however many there are, since no one seems to know this either) have been in Bermuda for upwards of 25 years. They have worked here, raised families, invested in Bermuda and now are able to buy their own homes. What exactly is wrong (voting preferences aside) in giving these people full status rights and thus ensuring that they will not only stay here, but will invest further, start new businesses, buy home and generally help the economy, and by extension, Bermudians, to thrive and succeed?
Nothing would give those thinking of coming to Bermuda to establish companies and to create jobs a better idea that this island treats those who come here with some fairness than allowing PRCs to have status.
There are arguments against this. Bermudians, and especially black Bermudians, have a fear about displacement in their own land. They fear it because they feel they have already been victims of it, and the perception that the preponderance over the years of “expats” have been white, brought with the express intention by the old oligarchy of propping up the white population is the basis for this fear. This perception has been consistently reinforced by the PLP, but that does not mean it is totally unjustified.
But the world has changed, and is still changing. Bermuda has lost population. The Bermudian population is ageing, meaning, even if the economy does not grow, that more non-Bermudians of working age will be needed in the future.
So Bermuda will have to import workers whether the economy improves or not. Does Bermuda want to have fly by night workers here, who are only interested in their pay and what they can save or send home, or do we want people who are prepared to have a stake in the success of Bermuda, something which would benefit everyone?
There’s no reason why the PLP can’t attract first generation Bermudians to their side. They did a little of this in 1998, but then disappointed them. Even the Republicans in the US get the idea that they need to do more to attract so-called minorities in that country. The PLP can do the same, instead of taking the easy way out and simply pulling up the status ladder to residents who have a great deal to offer to this island.
And the OBA should stop worrying about what the PLP might say about them, consider the issue on its merits and decide what it wants to do.