Race row: Some of the political figures who have been embroiled in the unfolding drama over a ‘secret’ UBP report. *Photo montage by Gary Foster Skelton
Race row: Some of the political figures who have been embroiled in the unfolding drama over a ‘secret’ UBP report. *Photo montage by Gary Foster Skelton

Editor's note: Due to a mistake made during editing, the original, print version of this story contained a factual error. The PLP has asked us to point out that the Young Progressives are NOT affiliated with the PLP. We apologize for the error.  

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 5: The PLP last night accused the Opposition of a “cover-up” over a now infamous ‘secret’ report — and threw down a challenge to debate the issue on TV.

The OBA hit back, saying the report, which was commissioned by the UBP after its 2007 election loss, had nothing to do with the OBA and was a weak attempt to detract from the real issues facing Bermuda.

The row has thrown a spotlight on Craig Cannonier’s leadership — for better or worse — and also thrust the issue of race, for now at least, onto the front burner.

As another controversial consultant’s report emerged yesterday — this one written for the Young Progressives — there were echoes of the 2007 election campaign in which provocative racial language was used by PLP figures to stir voters.

Former PLP Premier Alex Scott said the row over the UBP report had gained legs and could now prove “significant” on December 17. Mr Cannonier’s decision to cut short a press conference, amid the furore, showed he had “lost control of the moment”, Mr Scott said.

But Sir John Swan, the former UBP Premier. branded the PLP’s focus on the leaked report as “absolute nonsense” and ”superficial stupidity”.

A version of the ‘secret’ report — which was written about in the media in 2009 — was posted recently on the UBPleaks site. Its purported overseas authors distanced themselves from it but two former UBP leaders — Wayne Furbert and Kim Swan — confirmed its existence and essential content. The report appeared, in part, to condescend to black voters and recommended that the UBP split up and Michael Dunkley adopt a lower profile.

Mr Cannonier had said it appeared to be a fabrication and, when pressed by a Royal Gazette reporter, abruptly ended a press conference on Monday.

He later said on Facebook: “… I am prepared to answer any questions regarding the integrity of my party and our plans and aspirations for Bermuda. What I am not prepared to do is entertain a reporter who attended today’s press conference with one agenda in mind — to talk about a document of questionable origin and tie it directly to the OBA.

“The press conference was called to address the very serious issue of crime in Bermuda …The reporter in question did not once ask a question regarding the life and death issues that Bermuda faces… The alleged document has nothing to do with the party I lead.”

Gazette editor Bill Zuill last night responded: “We may not have had to ask questions concerning it at the press conference had the members who received the report when they were members of the UBP responded to us when we first sought comment. We may well have asked questions about crime if we had had the opportunity. Because Mr Cannonier ended the press conference prematurely, we never did.”

Views vary on what impact if any, the row will have on voting.

Sir John Swan said: “It just seems convenient now for the PLP to bring this report up and suggest there is some connection between the UBP and the OBA. When that report was written the OBA did not exist and Craig Cannonier was not around to be considered as leader. This is smoke and mirrors, when the real issues should be the economy and moving the country forward. It is a way of avoiding the real issues and making the election one of race. As long as we stay in the past we can not deal with the future.”

Another former UBP Premier, Dr David Saul, described the row as “a storm in a tea-cup, which makes certain politicians look very foolish. It is a smokescreen designed to divert attention from many important issues facing the country. It reminds me of Kipling’s poem: ‘If you can see the truth you’ve spoken, twisted by knaves, to set a trap for fools.’ Bermuda deserves better.”

But Alex Scott told us: “It was not initially a story and I did not think it would develop legs. But it has now evolved to the point where it caused the Opposition Leader to become a little heavy handed at the press conference on Monday. And now it has gone beyond the report and raised questions about his ability and suitability to manage. It has developed legs and stopped the OBA getting its message across. …You don’t walk away from a press conference like that. It opens you up to a rude awakening. You have to manage information and find a way to get it across to the press.

“He probably thought he was sending out a strong message of being in charge, but those who are less charitable to him will say that when you have the authority and power of Parliament you will be expected to provide answers to questions and respond to the issues. It’s not just the media you are talking to or walking out on but the public, too. What he did is a ‘no-no’ and it is a clear signal to voters that this is not the cool, calm and collected Craig Cannonier. This is someone who will benefit from serving another term as Opposition Leader. He may not realize how revealing his actions were to the public at large and only time will tell.”

At a press conference yesterday, Transport Minister, Walter Roban, said: “The Opposition attempted to cover up the fact that they called for the use of ‘black surrogates’ while hiding their real leader behind the scenes. They attempted to cover up the fact that the report called some of us ‘downscale’ and ‘less educated’.

“And, they attempted to cover up the fact that their whole reason for existence, the renaming and rebranding of the UBP, was little more than a desperate attempt by the old UBP guard to regain power. The plan is spelled out in great detail in the report.

“…We believe Bermudians deserve to have their questions answered in a televised debate.”