Prime Minister of Barbados Freundel Stuart visited U of T to attend a town hall at Koffler House on September 25.
During the Town Hall meeting, Stuart — accompanied by his Minister of Education and Minister of Labour — spoke about the Barbadian economy, tourism, the country’s relationship with Canada, and the two countries’ relationships with the British government and monarchy. Barbados will be celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of its independence on November 30.
Stuart, who has been the Prime Minister of Barbados since 2010, was proud to relay that the small state — with a population less than 300,000 people — has an economy that is “now approaching $9 billion in gross domestic product,” of which Health and Education makes up a “substantial part of the country’s budget because our human resource is to be regarded as our most precious resource.”
Tourism is a large part of Barbados’ service-based economy, contributing “about 12 percent of the gross domestic product,” which makes it their “principal foreign exchange earner.”
Stuart noted that their principle source market for tourism has shifted over the years from Canada to the United States to the United Kingdom as their principle source market for tourism. However, Barbados is currently Canada’s “third largest investment in the area of international business,” adding “most of our international business comes from here in Canada.”
Stuart discussed the long-spanning relationship Barbados has had with Canada, but said “you cannot speak of the relationship between Barbados and Canada without acknowledging a very important historical fact.” Stuart went on to discuss the “Confederation Riots” of 1876 in Barbados, which resulted from the British government wanting Barbados to “enter a confederation with the other islands of the eastern Caribbean.” The Barbados government rejected the idea as they did not want “to allow the other islands of the eastern Caribbean to be a drag on Barbados’ development,” Stuart explained.
Stuart spoke of how the decision made by Barbados increased tensions with the British government, which ultimately led to people being prosecuted or losing their lives. However, although Barbadians rejected participation in a Caribbean confederate they later offered to enter into “a confederal arrangement here in Canada” eight years later, although it “never became a reality.”
“I made the observation a point to let you know how strongly Barbadians have felt about Canada over the years, and how close the relationship between the two countries has been,” Stuart said.
Following his speech, Stuart took questions from the audience. Looking back over the previous six years he has been in office as Prime Minister, Stuart said: “I had views of what it would have been to be a great leader of a country, before I became a leader of a country, and for me the last six years have been a unique period of my own life not just because I’ve been the Prime Minister of Barbados but because the country was going through a most testing period since independence.”
Stuart said that the economic downturn currently felt in Barbados has been the “longest in Barbados post-independence history” and how through the crises he’s had to “keep Barbados steady.”
“I was aware and have been aware that, if I showed any signs of panic, any signs of anxiety, that it would filter right from the top down to society.” Stuart cited Roman poet Horace as an inspiration for him to not only “keep a cool head” but also to “radiate as Prime Minister of Barbados confidence in the promise and the future of Barbados,” noting that it is very important to understand that “we cannot afford to mistake a moment in time for eternity; this will pass.”
“We may not get back to the Barbados that preceded this crisis because the world has changed but the Barbados that comes out will be the Barbados… that responds to the ideals which we have set ourselves in creation of a Barbados that is socially balanced, economically viable, and environmentally sound and characterized by those goals.” He added, “So in terms of what it takes to be a great leader, leadership is contextual.”
Disclosure: Dan Silveira was recently hired as an Advertising Executive for Varsity Publications Inc. He no longer contributes to The Varsity’s written content.