Richards, who was also deputy premier in the OBA administration that was trounced in last month’s general election by the Progressive Labour Party (PLP), described Cannonier’s resignation as premier as a “very traumatic event” which could have contributed to the OBA’s dismal failure to keep the trust of the public during its four-and-a-half years in power.
In an interview with the Royal Gazette newspaper, Richards, son Sir Edward Richards, Bermuda’s first black premier, also called for fellow “old soldiers” of the party to step aside after the crushing election defeat.
Cannonier, 54, resigned in May 2014, to be replaced by Michael Dunkley, after being involved in Jetgate along with cabinet colleagues Mark Pettingill and Shawn Crockwell, who both later left the party. Cannonier maintained he had done nothing wrong. He remained an MP and later returned to cabinet under Dunkley. Crockwell was found dead at his home aged 48 just before last month’s election. Pettingill, a lawyer, is no longer in politics.
Richards would not divulge the full story behind the scandal — dubbed Jetgate by the PLP when in opposition — but told the newspaper “the public doesn’t know what happened. Craig was made to be the fall guy.”
Jetgate surrounded the use of US tycoon Nathan Landow’s private jet to take Cannonier and two of his cabinet ministers for talks with Landow in America.
The crisis deepened after Landow confirmed he and a group of other US businessmen had donated US$350,000 to assist the 2012 OBA election campaign, although Landow said cash was wired to a group called the Bermuda Political Action Club and not directly to the OBA.
Landow insisted that no deal was struck during the meeting and said he received nothing from the OBA government in return for his financial contribution to the party.
Thad Hollis later resigned as OBA chairman after conducting an investigation into Jetgate. He said he had been unaware of the American group’s donation until 18 months later.
Richards said his own defeat to Cannonier in the OBA’s first leadership contest in September 2011, had been “a blessing in disguise.
“I think if I had won that, I don’t think we would have won the 2012 election.Craig was the right guy. Quite frankly, he’s still the right guy.”
Cannonier had been leader of the short-lived Bermuda Democratic Alliance before it merged with most existing United Bermuda Party (UBP) MPs to form the OBA in May 2011.
Asked whether Cannonier should return as leader, a position taken by Patricia Gordon-Pamplin following the resignation of Dunkley last month, Richards said “I hope so. He’s a very talented person in ways that I’m not. He has charisma. I don’t think I could’ve done what he did in 2012 to bring people together”.
Richards said of the public trust of the OBA was lost during the its term in office.
“They trusted us enough to get elected in the first place. The trust was clearly lost along the way. The irony is, we did do what we were elected to do, but in doing so we lost trust. I don’t have the answers.”
Political observers believe the OBA lost that trust because it won the 2012 election under the umbrella of a new political entity, only to then resemble the old UBP once Dunkley became premier, supported by former UBP politicians such as Richards, Gordon-Pamplin, Grant Gibbons and Trevor Moniz.
Asked for his opinion on that view, Richards said “I think that’s a good thesis. The resignation of Craig Cannonier, I think, was a very traumatic event for the OBA. Very traumatic. I think it had long-lasting effects.
“That’s another reason I’m happy to be sitting here not elected. It’s time for the old soldiers to shove off. I’m one of them.
“It’s time for new people to replace some of the old soldiers that are left. I think that’s what’s going to have to happen with the OBA, because people just have to accept that you do your bit. The company is not yours. You serve your time and you step aside and other people have to step up and run the show.
“I know this to be true. I have seen this growing up the son of a politician. It doesn’t matter how successful you are, there comes a time when you have to step aside.”
The PLP won 24 seats against 12 for the OBA, with the PLP claiming almost 60 per cent of the popular vote. In the biggest shock of the night, Richards lost his Devonshire East seat to Christopher Famous by 94 votes. Dunkley barely hung on to his seat in Smith’s North.
Days before the general election, the OBA had enjoyed an 11 point lead in the opinion poll and Richards acknowledged the OBA had upset large numbers of people with its approach to immigration.
But he believed the so-called Pathways to Status (citizenship) initiative — which was later withdrawn after a demonstration prevented lawmakers from entering parliament — would have brought desperately needed improvement to the ailing economy, and said the government was “determined to turn things around as rapidly as possible”.
The OBA inherited a national debt of US$1.4 billion when it took office in 2012. The debt now stands at $2.4 billion.
“We were in a hurry. Bermuda is not accustomed to government being in a hurry. It was clear to me as the economics guy that what we were proposing for immigration was very sound economics. It was clear that people were very angry. Upon reflection, I think many people thought that we were trying to manipulate for political advantage. That was never my rationale,” Richards said.
- Countries: Bermuda