Some reflections on the petition

As readers may know, I’ve been involved in this petition for a referendum on casino gambling.

And yes, that has affected the quality and quantity of posts by me here, so I apologise about that!

I’d like to take this opportunity to address some of the issues that have been raised, either through online comments or in-person conversations regarding the whole petition for a referendum on casino gambling.

And I’d like to stress here that I am speaking only in a personal capacity and not for the ‘group’ that’s involved in this.

I’m going to try and do this through an ‘FAQ’ style Q&A.

question mark

i) We cannot afford a referendum…

Personally, I don’t think it’s appropriate to put a price tag on democracy, but having said that, this is incorrect.

The Parliamentary Registry has been preparing for a referendum on casino gambling since before the 2012 General Election and has already budgeted for such a referendum.  The Parliamentary Registry has a standing budget for referendums, and as part of their pre-2012 election preparation they have ensured that there is sufficient monies to cover the cost of a referendum on casino gambling.

Importantly, the money in that budget is already allocated and, by law, cannot be allocated for any other use.  It cannot be used for anything other than holding a referendum.

As such, we CAN afford a referendum, we already have the money for it, and whether we spend it on a referendum on casino gambling or not the money in question CANNOT be used for anything other than holding a referendum.

ii) We elect politicians to make these decisions for us…

If both political parties had not promised, in their election platforms, that they would hold a referendum on casino gambling, then this would be correct.  However, we did not elect the current parliament to decide on casino gambling – the current parliament was instead explicitly elected to hold a referendum on casino gambling.

Petitionlaunch2

iii)  Yeah, well, we expect politicians to break election promises…

Personally, I find that attitude fatalistic and gives our politicians free range to lie to us and get away with it.  And I don’t think that’s right.

To me, the election platform and the promises it contains, represent something akin to a social contract between the Government and the people.  The Government was elected to fulfill its election promises, and the people have the right and responsibility to hold the Government accountable to its election promises.

To simply shrug off broken promises, well, to me that leads to a broken politics, one full of deceit and unaccountability.  And that’s not a politics I think we should settle for.  Rather, we should aspire to a politics we can be proud of, one where we have a reasonable expectation that the politicians will actually do what they said they would do and be accountable to the people.

Now, sure, some election promises can be broken – provided a reasonable explanation is given.  That has not happened in this case.  The excuse given by the Government, or, more specifically, the Premier and the Minister of Tourism, well, it’s pretty absurd.  In reaction to criticism that the proposed question was loaded and needed changed and that some people who might otherwise support casino gambling would be put off from voting the Government concocted a rather unbelievable story about the Opposition seeking to undermine the referendum.  I don’t believe it – it’s not a good enough or even a reasonable explanation.

Beyond that, a promise of a referendum is not your average election promise.  Referendums are seldom promised, and even rarer are they agreed on by both parties as the right thing to do to settle an issue.

This sets a very dangerous precedent.

By allowing the referendum on casino gambling to be so casually discarded it renders all future election promises meaningless – a promise of a referendum is so big that if it can be discarded so can all other election promises.

Furthermore, this allows any future proposed referendum (say, to play devil’s advocate, the issue of independence) to be discarded and settled by parliamentary vote, where the government has a majority and can invoke the whip.  While this may seem unlikely now, this current action provides the precedent for just such an action.

iv) The petition is against casino gambling…

No.  The petition is for a referendum on casino gambling.  It takes no position, for or against, regarding casino gambling.

v) The petition is for casino gambling…

No.  The petition is for a referendum on casino gambling.  It takes no position, for or against, regarding casino gambling.

vi) Those places hosting petitions are (anti-OBA/anti-gambling/etc)…

No.  They have just agreed to host petitions so that people can have their say and exercise their democratic rights to free speech.

vii)  The petition is a waste of time…

As Minister Crockwell himself said, ‘Democracy is never a waste of time’.

A referendum on casino gambling was promised by both parties.  A referendum on casino gambling was promised by the Government for almost a year until being abruptly cancelled.  There is every reason to believe that the people can pressure the government to honour its promise of holding a referendum on casino gambling.

Additionally, the OBA was also elected on the promise of creating a mechanism by which the people can trigger a referendum on any issue.  The preferred mechanism for doing such is through a petition.  While this has not yet been introduced into law, one should have the reasonable expectation that the OBA Government would honour its commitment to such an initiative and welcome a petition to trigger a referendum on casino gambling – as was promised by them.

viii) We already have gambling…

Yes.  We do.  Which is why we are calling (and the OBA promised, explicitly) a referendum not on gambling itself but particularly on casino gambling.

Gambling

The petition is focused on a referendum on casino gambling, not gambling in general.

ix) But the urgency of now!

All the more reason why the Government should have made this a priority (if they believe it is really something we urgently need) and moved ahead with the referendum last year.

And, at that, all the more reason why it should make good on its promise now and call a referendum on casino gambling immediately.

As noted above, the Parliamentary Registrar has been preparing for a referendum on casino gambling since before the 2012 General Election.  It’s ready.  It has the money ring-fenced.  We can hold a referendum on casino gambling well within the required 90 days (any referendum must be held no later than 90 days after being called).

x) But we need casinos for tourism!

Maybe.  Maybe not.  We don’t know.  A referendum on casino gambling allows for a pro and con educational discussion on the issue, allowing for a an informed decision on the issue, rather than being rushed to a decision with one-sided arguments which may or may not be true.

Again, the petition does not take a position on casino gambling other than the need to hold a referendum on the issue.

xi) But investors need stability if they are going to invest!

Sure.  And that’s all the more reason why a referendum should be held on casino gambling.

If a decision on casino gambling is made by parliament, it can also be reversed by parliament.  If parliament today approves casino gambling, it’s not inconceivable that the next parliament that is elected decides to abolish them.  As such, a decision by parliament does not provide the long-term stability that investors truly need if they are going to invest.

If the decision is decided by a referendum, however, it is very hard to reverse that decision for a long time, and it would require another referendum to do so.  Referendums can ‘settle’ issues for a very long time – for decades even.  If the Government believes there is majority support for casino gambling, then it should welcome a referendum on the issue – if it results in support for casino gambling, then investors have stability for ten to twenty years, at least.

Besides, what kind of stability does the Government present to investors if it can backtrack on such a key election promise as a referendum?  This could indicate an unstable Government, one not even able to honour key parts of its platform.  Surely investors would prefer a Government that sticks to what it says it will, rather than suddenly changing course without giving a reasonable explanation for doing so?

xii) But the petition is communist!

I can only assume that this is because of my involvement in this.

The petition is not communist.  The petition is about democracy and about democratic precedents.  It’s that simple.

About these ads

5 thoughts on “Some reflections on the petition

  1. Pingback: Bermuda: Gambling with Democracy? · Global Voices

  2. Pingback: Bermuda: Gambling with Democracy? | Freedom, Justice, Equality News

  3. Good morning Jonathan – will you get this piece to the press??? I would like to see it in the broader public arena.
    Kim Smith

  4. Pingback: Bermuda: Spiel mit Demokratie? · Global Voices auf Deutsch

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s