For two candidates engaged in one of the most hotly contested battles of the 2017 election, Kenneth Bryan and Marco Archer seem to agree on a lot of a broad policy goals.
Cruise berthing for George Town, check; private sector involvement and ending social promotion in schools, check; more community policing, check.
The main areas of contention when the candidates clashed in a Chamber of Commerce debate Thursday night came over issues of character and ability to get the job done.
Mr. Bryan questioned Mr. Archer and the Progressives’ track record over the past four years, highlighting the airport as the only project of significance that the administration can take any credit for.
Mr. Archer spoke of his achievements as finance minister and contrasted his competence and credibility with that of his opponent.
After a bitterly fought campaign between Mr. Bryan and his former party, the Progressives, a crowd of more than 100 spectators packed the Town Hall in George Town Thursday evening, expecting fireworks in the head-to-head debate.
Asked in a question from the audience about the importance of a candidate’s personal and professional track record, Mr. Archer suggested voters should look at past behavior as an indicator of future performance.
“Professionally I have done well, politically I have done well, personally I have done well; in terms of character I have done well. I am not blowing my own trumpet, I am just saying there is nothing that anyone can say about me,” Mr. Archer said.
The question came against the backdrop of a campaign in which the Progressives have targeted Mr. Bryan, highlighting his past run-ins with the law. Mr. Bryan was fired as Premier Alden McLaughlin’s personal assistant after his arrest for obstructing police. The premier has insisted during campaigning that Mr. Bryan had been arrested for a similar offense in the past, though police said they have no record of a second arrest.
Sensing a planted question, Mr. Bryan, who ran on the Progressives ticket last time, accused the party of hypocrisy and “sending a terrible message to our youth” in its treatment of him.
“I think we are trying to get at a question about me and my past and, as I have said before, if I was good for George Town then, I am good for George Town now,” he said. “I think it is deceitful to try to use a candidate for political purposes and when they don’t need them anymore, now they are no good. It sends a sad, sad message to our youth. I’ve embraced every difficulty I have faced in my life and used it as strength to continue and prove to other young men in this country that just because you make a mistake doesn’t mean your life is over.”
Mr. Bryan also took issue with an apparent suggestion from the Progressives that he wants to be finance minister, suggesting that he did not seek the job.
Mr. Archer responded, “I have made no such accusation, because I know he cannot do it.”
Mr. Bryan, who highlighted cost of living and employment among his key issues, cited the prospect of mass status grants, because of delays in dealing with a backlog of permanent residency applications and urged the release of the Ritch immigration report.
“That report should be released so we know what is in it,” he said. “We can’t afford another mass granting of status without the proper procedure being followed.”
Mr. Archer said the government had tweaked the immigration regulations and the process would improve without the need for any automatic status grants.
He said, “I must correct the assumption that the Ritch Report will result in mass status grants. That is reckless and meant to mislead. There is only one time in history where mass status grants have been issued and that was granted by the United Democratic Party, not the Progressives.”
Mr. Bryan highlighted education as “the number one priority” and said it was “shameful” that the education minister had highlighted lack of funds in the budget.
“The first thing we should deal with in budget is education and everything else should come afterwards,” he said.
He said he would end social promotion, holding children back in primary school until they reached the required numeracy and literacy levels to move up.
He added that he wanted candidates of all parties to agree on a consistent policy and also indicated support for the possible privatization of school administration.
“That should be examined because of the political football played with education year after year,” he said.
Mr. Archer said education was second only to national security in budget allocation and suggested funding was not the key issue.
“We have to question why it is that the government spends so much money on education and we do not get the same results as the private schools,” he said. “It cannot be the level of investment; it must be management, parental involvement and understanding of the value of education.”
He endorsed private sector involvement in school management as a possible solution.