Update: Craig Cannonier yielded to the pressure of his colleagues and resigned from the Premiership about two hours after this story was published. The story is still relevant in that it contains some important updates on our original expose “Selling Bermuda” and provides some insights into the party’s internal state in the hours leading up to Cannonier’s decision.
A showdown is set for a ruling party caucus meeting tomorrow as Craig Cannonier faces intense pressure to step down as leader of the One Bermuda Alliance by the party’s executive and all but four legislators.
But after two days of meetings over the weekend, Cannonier has rejected the calls, saying he has done nothing wrong – even as the party has now learned more shocking news about the link between his friend Steven DeCosta and US developer Nathan Landow.
Some OBA legislators tried to downplay the nature of the crisis after Sunday’s meeting.
But having failed to persuade him to resign, the party is now in a deeper crisis and is seeking to start the process of ousting Cannonier by way of a no confidence vote at a tomorrow’s caucus meeting.
And it could be another three weeks before it manages to establish a new leader.
Cannonier has a number of cards to play given the thin margin of parliamentary seats held by the OBA.
OBA MPs are concerned about the possibility of an Opposition-led no confidence vote in parliament as well as a threat by Cannonier and his supporters to sit in parliament as independents.
“I don’t listen to threats like that – certainly comments that are made in the heat of discussion. I don’t pay attention to that,” said Deputy Premier, Michael Dunkley.
“I regret some things I’ve said at times.”
Dunkley, who could well be the country’s Premier in waiting, is walking a fine diplomatic line and downplayed the significance of the crisis this afternoon.
“I serve in his cabinet. I support the Premier,” he told Politica. Then he hinted that the Premier may well accept the writing on the wall and resign.
“What the Premier decides to do, that’s his decision.”
He said: “We’re a very diverse family in the OBA and we’re going to have our good times and we’re going to have bad times.”
Those opposing Cannonier include his own branch manager Sony Kessaram, OBA Chair Thad Hollis and the party’s Communications Chair Toni Daniels.
Home Affairs Minister Senator Michael Fahy, Community Development Minister Wayne Scott, backbenchers Sylvan Richards and Kenneth Bascome are Cannonier’s only supporters in the legislature, according to party members we spoke to who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation.
The party’s crisis follows publication of our report “Selling Bermuda” which investigated Cannonier’s links with Landow.
Landow first came to public consciousness last year, after he sent his private jet to pick up three Cabinet Ministers and the Premier’s friend Steven DeCosta to attend a meeting at the developer’s Washington DC offices.
Our inquiry into the matter found that Cannonier had met Landow before the 2012 election and that the developer and his associates had donated $300,000 to the election campaign – something Cannonier did not reveal to his party or parliament when news of the private jet trip emerged last year.
It emerged last week that the money was sent to a secret account operated by DeCosta and OBA advisor Derrick Greene.
Cannonier was also reported to have asked Landow for $2 million to facilitate a casino license in Bermuda.
Landow and Cannonier have both subsequently denied that claim.
Landow claimed he had “no knowledge” of a donation to the OBA’s election campaign and would not confirm having met DeCosta, when we talked to him for our story saying he did not recall everyone he met with.
But his memory has apparently improved since.
He denied reports that Cannonier had asked him for $2 million but admitted the campaign donation – for an “underground” get out the vote campaign – when the Bermuda Sun interviewed him last week.
And he confirmed that Steven DeCosta was present for at least one meeting with Bermudian politicians, saying it was assumed that he was part of the Premier’s entourage, according to the Bermuda Sun.
OBA caucus members are said to be furious at the revelations.
Senator Fahy, Cannonier’s Home Affairs Minister, made an early, angry, exit from yesterday’s meeting after telling the group that nothing illegal had occurred when the private account was set up.
The party’s weekend deliberations established the following, according to information reaching Politica.
- Deputy Party Leader, Michael Dunkley, who is in charge of fundraising for the party, knew nothing of the secret campaign account opened in the name of the Bermuda Political Action Club.
- Senator Michael Fahy, campaign chairman, also knew nothing of the account.
- Senator Fahy did play a peripheral role in its establishment, however, when he confirmed to the Bank of NT Butterfield upon their request that DeCosta and Greene were assisting the OBA campaign.
- Party Chairman Thad Hollis also knew nothing of the secret account.
- The party’s inquiry now focuses on what happened to the BPAC money, especially given that it had legitimately paid out monies to DeCosta for an underground campaign which saw thousands of brochures produced, ground signs inserted all over the island and social media bloggers engaged.
- Steven DeCosta is on Landow’s payroll.
It is understood that DeCosta became a paid consultant to Landow shortly before or around the same time as the controversial “Jetgate” trip in March 2013.
Landow made no reference to a financial relationship between DeCosta and himself in his chat with the Bermuda Sun.
Cannonier’s refusal to step down has infuriated members of the caucus which consists of the Executive, 19 MPs, five Senators, nine regional chairs, and a number of adopted and approved candidates.
The OBA Constitution provides two possible routes for removing the party’s leader, both of which would spark a leadership election.
The leadership would be vacated if two thirds of OBA MPs pass a vote of no confidence in the leader which is endorsed by the party caucus.
Alternatively, the OBA Caucus itself could pass a vote of no confidence in the leader, but that would have to be endorsed by a majority of members at a special party conference.
Following such endorsements, the party would have to call a leadership election – at which all OBA members of good standing would be entitled to vote.
Fourteen days notice must be given for a special conference.
As Premier, Cannonier can replace Senators, something he has threatened to do this weekend, according to our sources, and shore up some support within caucus – a group which could number up to 50.
He could also campaign among the general membership in advance of a special conference.
And he could attempt to strike a deal with the Opposition Progessive Labour Party.
Cannonier is reported to have claimed a racially motivated conspiracy against him, blames Attorney General Mark Pettingill for giving him bad advice and says he is only guilty of naivete.
Pettingill has defended himself saying the Premier did not fully disclose DeCosta’s role and links with Landow.
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