38-y-o David Burt sworn in as Bermuda's new premierWednesday, July 19, 2017
HAMILTON, Bermuda (CMC) — David Burt was sworn in by Governor John Rankin as Bermuda's youngest ever premier on Wednesday, promising to work his hardest for “every single Bermudian” in this country” after the Progressive Labour Party (PLP) stormed to power in the general election.
Burt, a 38-year-old father of two, said he would name his new cabinet on Thursday.
Earlier, Michael Dunkley, the former premier, resigned as leader of the now opposition One Bermuda Alliance (OBA) following his party's crushing 24 seats to 12 defeat in Tuesday's election in which the PLP garnered almost 60 percent of the vote with a turnout of just below 73 per cent.
Dunkley, 59, who replaced Craig Cannonier as premier in May 2014 after he stepped down in the wake of the so-called Jetgate scandal involving a wealthy American businessman, barely retained his House of Assembly seat as seven of his colleagues lost theirs on Tuesday night when the PLP was returned to power four and a half years after it had been narrowly defeated by the OBA in the previous election.
The PLP was previously in power for 14 years after ending the 30-year reign of the now defunct United Bermuda Party (UBP) in 1998.
Political commentator Phil Perinchief, a former PLP Attorney-General, laid the OBA's failure squarely on its inability to communicate.
“The OBA had great ideas but did an extremely bad job of communicating those ideas to the people,” he said, describing the message as “paternalistic — it felt like it was being rammed down their throats”.
As he was sworn in at Government House, watched by family members and party colleagues, Burt delivered a unifying message in his first speech to the nation as premier.
“Our aim is simple: to be a government for all of Bermuda, whether it be the haves or have-nots, whether it is Front Street or North Village,” he said.
Burt thanked his family, and became visibly emotional as he mentioned the recent death of his brother-in-law.
“It is without question so gratifying to see so many of you here today to support me as I represent you on this occasion,” he said.
“To the voters of this country it is without question an awesome responsibility, one which we will not take lightly.Today, I take the oath of office as premier of Bermuda. Tomorrow, we will swear in a government and get to work immediately.
“We will be a government that will put Bermudians first and make sure we work to advance the interests of every single Bermudian in this country.We will be a government that will govern with integrity and will work every day to improve the conditions for so many of us.
“Today the work begins. This is without question an honour but without question there is an incredible amount of work to be done.Know and understand that I will give everything I can, my team will give everything they can to live up to the trust that you have given us with the mandate that you delivered yesterday,” Burt said.
The OBA's biggest casualty was Bob Richards, party deputy leader and Minister of Finance, who lost to union activist Christopher Famous in Devonshire East.
Richards, son of former UBP premier Sir Edward Richards, who was born in British Guiana (now Guyana), immediately announced his retirement from politics.
When asked what he would do next, Richards said: “I don't know. But I am certainly going to retire from politics. I'm more than old enough. This is the end of the line for me. My public service is done.”
Richards, who also served in the Senate in the late 1990s and mid-2000s, said: “I'm hopeful that the new government will continue some of the fiscal policies that we have put in place — they are critical for us moving forward. We'll see what they do.”
The national debt stands at US$2.4 billion — it was $1.4 billion when the OBA took office at the end of 2012.
The Chamber of Commerce said it looked forward to working with the new PLP government.
But John Wight, the chamber president, warned that Bermuda faced a series of challenges — including an ageing population and need to increase the number of taxpayers.
Wight said: “One of the many challenges we face is an ageing and declining population and all sectors in Bermuda that offer local products and services need more consumers in Bermuda to survive.
“Without more taxpayers in Bermuda local businesses will continue to absorb too large a portion of the tax burden required to narrow the deficit.”
Dunkley called the election last month to pre-empt a planned vote of no confidence in the OBA government by Burt.
Although the OBA won by 19 seats to 17 in 2012, two of its former cabinet ministers, lawyers Mark Pettingill and Shawn Crockwell, later resigned from the party to sit as independents, leaving the OBA a minority government.
Crockwell was found dead at his home last month aged 47 while Pettingill did not run on Tuesday.
But the OBA retained both seats. Former senator Jeff Baron — tipped by some as a successor to Dunkley — won Pettingill's old seat in Warwick North East, while Ben Smith won Crockwell's old Southampton West Central seat.