A Toronto construction company is the focus of outcry in Bermuda, where an airport development has provoked the ire of locals.
Tempers flared in the normally peaceful tourist hot spot best known for its pink sand beaches, clear turquoise waters and pastel-coloured houses.
An untendered plan to redevelop the international airport by Toronto-based construction company Aecon has residents questioning a lack of transparency and wondering why a Bermudian company was not contracted.
Tensions boiled over outside the House of Assembly in Bermuda, where members of Parliament were set to debate the legislation on the airport, when police sprayed protesters, among them senior citizens, with pepper spray.
In a statement, police Commissioner Michael A. DeSilva wrote that officers did so “to disperse the crowd” that was blocking a path to the House. The Canadian Commercial Corp. is in the process of finalizing the deal with the Bermudian government, with Aecon as the subcontractor.
Aecon, which has headquarters in Calgary and Toronto, was involved in building the terminals at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. It will take on the cost of building a new terminal in Bermuda and will hold a 30-year-lease of the property. It will also run the facilities and collect any revenue.
“This terminal will be a state-of-the-art, modern terminal, probably the most modern in the Americas,” said Steve Nackan, Aecon Concessions president.
The deal has come under fire because of a lack of transparency, specifically because it was not tendered out, but Nackan said that wouldn’t have worked for the small island of around 65,000 people.
“It is very difficult in the airport market to tender a project on any airport that has less than a million passengers. Typically those tenders are not viable or they fail,” said Nackan.
Aecon was also selected, he said, because “we were essentially ideally suited to helping out with a project that needed both financing and construction services. (Bermuda doesn’t) have the capacity to borrow further to build the airport.”
Despite the civil unrest, the premier of Bermuda, Michael H. Dunkley, remained supportive of the deal.
“This is a good deal for Bermuda and we are prepared to debate it in the House as a vibrant democracy allows,” he said in a statement, adding that the airport will not be privatized.
But others disagreed.
“From the perspective of the Progressive Labour Party, this project will have a significant negative impact on our government’s balance sheet and our finances,” said party leader E. David Burt.
“We as members of Parliament were actually shocked. I would not believe that they would actually send out what were essentially riot police into the crowd,” said Burt, who was among a group of MPs who tried to defuse the situation between police and protesters by putting themselves between them.
“(There were) officers in both hands discharging pepper spray at citizens, directly into their eyes,” he said. “It was a very tragic and sad situation.”
The shadow minister of transport, Lawrence Scott, was also pepper sprayed.
“I did get pepper sprayed, but to be transparent I don’t think that it was intentional that they pepper sprayed a sitting MP,” said Scott, who added he was trying to protect the Bermudians in the crowd.
The Bermuda Industrial Union, which is against hiring a foreign firm to do the job, also criticized Aecon.
BIU president Chris Furbert acknowledged that “Bermuda probably needs a brand new airport,” but said, “We believe that we have enough local competence in Bermuda.
“Now we may have to bring some help in, maybe 5- or 10-per-cent help we need … but certainly we believe we have the expertise here that can build us a brand new airport.”
Furbert was at Friday’s protest and though he wasn’t pepper sprayed himself, he said about 20 of his members were. They filed a complaint against the police.
Nackan told the Star the Bermudian staff who run the existing airport terminal will be hired to work at the new airport and that local labour will be used in its construction.
“Fundamentally the Bermudian people who currently operate their terminal will continue to operate it with support from us,” said Nackan.