Referendum (Clarity) Act – Proposed

Following on from the release of my draft Right of Recall Act earlier this week, and my draft Fixed Term Elections Act earlier in the year, today I’ve released my draft Referendum (Clarity) Act.

I actually wrote this in December 2013 – I wrote it in reaction to the Gaming Referendum Act 2013 which ignited a storm of controversy due to the incredibly loaded question it proposed for the then promised referendum on casino gambling.

At the time I expected the Government to amend the question to a more neutral one, even if by an Opposition motion. I wasn’t expecting them to drop the referendum altogether – and when they did I decided to focus on the petition for a referendum on casino gambling, as that seemed the priority once they dropped it.  I didn’t want to confuse the issue by having two related things going on at once, so I put this draft Act on the backburner. fountain-pen-1441111-m

I think it’s important to note that before the referendum was dropped, I sent an earlier draft of this Act to every single MP and Senator, OBA, PLP and Independent.  Only PLP MPs and Senators replied to that email, offering some constructive criticism (typos, legal phrasing, etc) and generally being supportive of it.  I say that to stress that this proposed Act shouldn’t be new to any MP or Senator – they’ve had access to at least an earlier version for almost a year now.

My approach since the 2012 election was announced (and thus a key factor in my deciding to run as an Independent then) has been that while criticising policy is all well and good, I should take it a step further and offer alternatives or concrete proposals, rather than just simply criticise things.

So, rather than just simply criticise the Government for not implementing Fixed Term Elections or Right of Recall legislation yet, I’ve taken a stab at preparing workable drafts that the Government (or Opposition) could take and introduce – and hopefully get passed – thus expediting their introduction. I realise my drafts may subsequently get amended in the process – in some cases purely procedurally (I’m not a lawyer trained in official drafting of legislation) or more substantively.

My proposed Referendum (Clarity) Act simply seeks to strengthen the Referendum Act 2012, correcting a flaw in the 2012 legislation that was highlighted by the biased phrasing of the Gaming Referendum Act 2013 question.

It’s based on UK legislation that empowers their Electoral Commission to rule on the neutrality and intelligibility of referendum questions, including the power to postpone referendums until an acceptable question is proposed. This was most recently seen with the referendum on Scottish independence, with the original question being ruled biased in favour of independence, and subsequently replaced by a more neutral question.

Quite simply, the policy exists in other jurisdictions, it has a proven precedent, and we can introduce it quite easily.

I welcome feedback on this draft Act too, although I’m confident (having received feedback from MPs earlier, and having consulted the UK Electoral Commission in drafting it), that it’s good to go as is.

If you think that my draft Referendum (Clarity) Act is good, or at least the underlying principle of it is, then please help me get it introduced – please contact your MP, or write to a Senator, and encourage them to adopt and/or support it!

Thank you!

A pdf version of the draft Act can be found on Bernews here.

New Work Permit Policy Delayed

Just a quick note this.

I welcome the decision by Minister Fahy to delay the implementation of the proposed new work permit policy.

I have not had sufficient time to review the full policy document, however I am aware – and from my cursory reading support – that criticisms have been made regarding it.

Personally, I was surprised that a document supposedly developed for public consultation stated quite blatantly on the front cover that the policy was to come into effect on December 1st (the ‘consultation’ document being issued in October).

The front cover of the consultative document.

The front cover of the consultative document.

To me that sent the wrong message regarding consultation.  It gave the impression that no matter what, the policy is coming into effect on December 1st, and the ‘consultation’ was merely a formality.  It wasn’t a proper consultation, but an exercise in a fait accompli.

For a true public consultation a second policy document, incorporating the consultative feedback, would have been required before the policy came into effect.  At best the document could have stated approximate timelines, not a concrete date within which it was pretty much impossible to ensure adequate feedback, rewriting and subsequent issuing of the final version.

Granted, you’re not going to get a document that everyone agrees with, but if you’re going to issue something for public consultation, it should be done properly.

Right of Recall – Draft for Consultation

Apologies for the lack of posts lately – last week was rather hectic for me.

I’ve released a draft Right of Recall Act for public consultation, with the hope of (a) getting constructive criticism to improve it; and (b) encouraging the Government to speed up their commitment to this, and other, political reform(s).

In developing the draft I relied heavily on existing recall legislation in British Columbia (Canada) and the UK, as they have a related legislative history to ours.  I also consulted other jurisdictions, namely various US States, Venezuela and Switzerland. fountain-pen-1441111-m

I’ve tried to strike a balance between direct democracy and not letting the process be hijacked by party politics.

I’m hoping for feedback, both here, on Facebook, the Bernews post and the RG article.

I’m sure there’ll be people who will either attack me personally – and ignore the draft itself – or ignore it completely out of political animosity towards me.  However, I’m hoping that most people will see it as an effort to accelerate the pace of political reforms and contribute some genuine feedback on it.

I would love it if a Senator or MP adopts the draft and introduces it as a private bill on my behalf.

Beyond that, in as much as the Government claims to remain committed to these political reforms, by introducing a draft and encouraging feedback on it, the Government too can benefit from the feedback in designing their own Act, should they choose not to adopt the one I’ve offered.

I cannot stress enough, that if we, the electorate, do not push for things like this, if we don’t advocate and act for their adoption, then the politicians have absolutely no incentive to change the status quo – a status quo that they actively benefit from.

If you want our politicians to become more accountable to the people, then you need to take action to ensure they adopt these reforms rather than simply hoping they’ll do it out of the goodness of their hearts.  It doesn’t happen that way.  They will only adopt these reforms if they calculate it’s in their interest – in this case, that they’ll suffer a backlash at the polls if they don’t.

Of course, in our severely polarised racial-economic political reality, both parties believe they don’t need to worry too much about that possibility due to a combination of our polarised politics (where key voting blocs will vote for their party against the other no matter what) and the historical passivity of our people.

Nonetheless, swing voters determine election outcomes here.  And if an issue such as these political reforms grows enough to capture a significant chunk of the swing vote, then both parties will push to adopt the issue as their own.

So, hopefully there will be some good feedback from this draft Right of Recall Act, and hopefully voters will lobby their MPs to get a move on, or to even adopt my offering.

The full draft is available on the Bernews article itself, or you can open a pdf here.

Congratulations to Jamahl Simmons

Jamahl Simmons, the PLP candidate in the constituency 33 by-election, has emerged the winner in today’s by-election.

Mr Simmons won with 462 votes, versus 326 votes for Ms Marshall of the OBA (or 58.18% to 41.05%).

There were also six spoiled ballots, however it’s impossible to tell whether these ballots were intentionally spoiled or not.

The turn-out was relatively low, as is usually the norm in by-elections, with 794 of the 1,327 eligible voters turning out – that is, there was a 59% turn-out.

This equates to a slight swing of 1.56% in favour of the PLP – in 2012 the PLP won with 56.62% to the OBA’s 43.48%.  This is contrary to my expectation that he would win but with a reduced margin of victory.

Now, it’s been an eventful day for me personally, so I’m not going to write too much right now about this…

At most, I’d simply like to congratulate Mr Simmons for his win and for running a pretty energetic and positive campaign (although I’m aware there’s some criticism surrounding the constituency ‘Feed the Family’ event).

I am hopeful that Mr Simmons is also aware of the question marks that remain over him as a result of his political past and the way he became the PLP candidate in this by-election, as well as his Twitter controversy earlier this year.

I say hopeful because I believe these should drive him to prove himself, both as a constituency MP and on the national stage.  I am hopeful this background will lead to him being a diligent and considerate MP.

As for Ms Marshall, I was disappointed by her refusal to engage in the media.

For someone of her intellectual caliber and professional prowess I was surprised at her reluctance in this regards.  She gave the impression she was afraid of being challenged by investigative journalists, and instead retreated to the illusory safety of a stage-managed campaign by the OBA Party itself.

We never really got to hear what she was about beyond campaign managed PR pieces.

Nonetheless, I believe she remains a potentially quality candidate, and I hope she takes the time to reflect on this experience, and I hope she doesn’t bow out of politics going forward.  She has the potential to be an excellent representative going forward – whether one likes her or not on a political level, I think it would be churlish to deny her potential contributions to our parliament in the future.

New Bermudian News Media

Beachlime has pointed out that there’s a new Bermudian news outlet that has been launched.

It appears to be a wholly online news site, and it looks like a direct rival to Bernews, who pioneered the model in Bermuda.

I’m cautiously optimistic about this development – after the demise of the Bermuda Sun I, and many others, were pessimistic about what this means for media diversity and the state of journalism in Bermuda.  Today we have the following:

Royal Gazette – only newspaper (a six-day daily)

Bernews – an online news site newspaper-273525-m

Today in Bermuda – an online news site

Politica – an online investigative journalism site

ZBM & VSB – our two local TV and radio news stations

Note I said cautiously optimistic though.  There has to be questions about whether there’s enough market share to sustain these news media sites without public subsidies or some sort of new business model.

I’m certainly hoping that all these – and more – news sites can survive and enhance our news media, and thus play an important role in creating an informed electorate and keep our politicians accountable.

I guess time will tell.  In the mean time, good luck Today in Bermuda (and all the other media outlets)!

Terry Lister & the OBA – Constituency 33 By-Election

So, Terry Lister, the former PLP MP whose decision to retire from politics has led to the by-election tomorrow (or today, depending when you read this!), on Tuesday, November 18th, has today come out and pretty much endorsed the OBA.

I can’t say I’m surprised by his decision.

The only real surprise I have is that he decided to retire at all, rather than simply join the OBA.

While he did explore the option of developing a third party, which I understand was intended to be a centrist party, some sort of reincarnation of the defunct National Liberal Party, it’s been the ‘word on the street’ for weeks, if not months, now that those close to him, such as his wife, had formally joined the OBA.  The impression was that he himself had joined or was in the process of doing so.

So why pack it in and force a by-election?

I don’t know.

The main question really is will it be enough to swing enough voters to vote for the OBA in 33?

I don’t know.  However, I doubt it, and I’m pretty confident that the PLP candidate will retain this seat for the PLP.

I don’t think it’ll be a landslide however, and I think there is a very good chance that this seat will switch from a PLP stronghold to a marginal.

I’m disappointed that there isn’t an Independent candidate running, just as I’m disappointed that Terry Lister’s resignation removed a formally Independent voice from the House – although I saw him moving towards the OBA, he had not yet, and so could voice independent positions outside of any party line.

I do think our politics is hardly inspiring right now; I’m pretty sure that if we had a ‘none of the above’ option on our ballot papers like some countries do, that option would do quite well.

Constituency 33 - Sandys South

Constituency 33 – Sandys South

As for the two candidates, they are both excellent candidates, albeit with quite a few flaws.

I’ve been surprised at the energy of the PLP campaign and equally surprised at a relatively lackluster OBA campaign which has shunned the media spotlight, leaving their candidate, and the issues, an unknown quantity.

Overall I’ve found the entire by-election campaign disappointing, and I feel the two parties have really missed an opportunity to hit the reset button and articulate positive reasons for voting for their candidate or a positive vision for Bermuda.

Ultimately I can’t see Mr Lister’s endorsement of the OBA being enough to win the seat for the OBA, and I expect Mr Simmons to win it for the PLP – although with a significantly reduced margin of victory.

I guess we’ll find out within 24 hours…

What do you think?

The Alleged Bean/Daniels Encounter

As I’ve noted already, I think the OBA’s decision to walk out of the Reply to the Throne Speech was an ill-judged one – and going on the basis of online comments (FB and Bernews) it has rather spectacularly backfired.  Quite frankly, they’ve failed to appreciate just how fed up the lay electorate is with the state of politics today.

I also think they’ve severely prejudiced the active police investigation now.

The OBA have released a statement to the media explaining their actions and giving an indication of what Mr Bean is alleged to have said.  The media is editing aspects of this, for various reasons (language, police investigation, etc), however the OBA has also posted their unedited version on their FB page, of which you can see a screenshot to the right. OBA walkout

It’s important to stress that this statement is one-sided.  It only presents what the OBA wants it to present, and for all we know they’ve selectively edited it for their benefit (of attacking Mr Bean).  However, perception becomes reality – or more real than reality – in politics, and Mr Bean’s past use of language render it easy to accept that at least part of this statement is true, even if somewhat out of context, hypothetically.

Now, based solely on this summary, I’m really not sure there’s much of a criminal case to answer, and if this is all there is I think the police are likely going to simply drop the investigation.  They have to investigate on the basis of the complaint, but they are likely to just conclude there’s nothing there to charge Mr Bean with unlawful conduct.

Looking at the comments, while they can (and are by PLPers on FB) be spun away, I think we can agree that the language and imagery involved are unbecoming an MP, let alone the Opposition Leader and prospective Premier.

As I’ve said before, this just underlines a tendency of Mr Bean which in my opinion adds to my conclusion that his Leadership should be open to question.  He is a political liability for the PLP and damaging their hopes of re-election, all this despite staggering incompetence and scandal on the part of the OBA.

I can understand how his victim would likely have interpreted the comments, and I can certainly see how they come across as misogynistic.  Mr Bean should rightly be criticised for them, and his own MPs and members should be leading this criticism, at least internally, if for no other reason than the political damage it causes the party.

I don’t think that justifies the OBA’s actions one bit however.  They had much better options to chose from, and it’s hard not to think that they themselves realised the police were likely to drop the investigation, and so sought to pre-empt this, with an eye to extracting maximum impact in advance of the by-election next week.

I have trouble thinking they have taken a principled stand here rather than an opportunistic one for political purposes, especially when they had better options available to them, such as a motion for a joint select committee on Members behaviour, conduct and sexism in general.

So, yes, Mr Bean should be criticised.  If he had a point to get across to Ms Daniels, he chose absolutely the wrong language and manner for doing so, and reinforces questions of his suitability as Leader.

However, the OBA have completely mishandled this and scored an own-goal.

In the end, the respect for parliament is further lowered.