Business

A Place in the Sun?

A formal association between the Turks & Caicos and Canada could be possible.

Story & Photos by Steve Rennie

Each winter, thousands of Canadians flee from their igloos to the sandy beaches and warm breezes of the Caribbean. In the process, they spend an estimated $30 million in the region, money that many Canadian politicians feel could be better spent at home.

With that in mind, one Canadian Member of Parliament has been looking into the possibility of creating a formal association with the Turks & Caicos Islands. Conservative MP Peter Goldring hopes to see the day when the 40-island archipelago becomes Canada’s eleventh province. “The process now is one of information, because I want to be very, very clear that this is far more than just a vacation destination for Canada,” said Goldring.

The idea is not a new one for the Turks & Caicos Islands. Historically, ownership of the Islands has passed from one country to another. Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492, the Turks & Caicos Islands are believed by some to be the explorer’s first landfall in the New World. Later re-discovered in 1512 by Juan Ponce De Leon on an expedition from Puerto Rico, the archipelago remained largely uninhabited until salt collectors from Bermuda settled on Grand Turk in 1678. The Bermudians successfully defended their settlement against a Bahamian annexation attempt in 1700, a Spanish invasion in 1710, and a French invasion in 1763. A second invasion attempt by the French in 1764 was successful, however, and the Bermudians were exiled to Haiti.

For the next few decades, Britain continued to fight with France and Spain for ownership before finally gaining control of the Islands and amalgamating them with the Bahamas. The Turks & Caicos Islands separated from the Bahamas in 1848, but were annexed by Jamaica, a British colony, in 1874. After Jamaica gained independence in 1962, the Turks & Caicos Islands once again became a non-aligned British Crown Colony. The Bahamian Governor was also governor of the Turks & Caicos Islands from 1965 to 1973, when the Islands received their own governor. Three years later, the Islands established a new constitution, and have remained a British dependency ever since.

Canada’s interest in the Turks & Caicos Islands dates back nearly a century. In 1917, Prime Minister Robert Borden first suggested the idea of a union while cruising in the region. It was not until 1974, however, that NDP Member of Parliament Max Saltsman introduced a private member’s bill to annex the Islands. The Canadian government subsequently rejected the motion, but the idea of a union between the two countries continued to be a popular idea among Canadians, desperate for a place in the sun to call their own during the frigid winter months.

After Saltsman’s death in November 1985, Conservative MP Dan McKenzie took up the cause to bring the idea of a union to the forefront. In April 1986, two Turks & Caicos businessmen, Ralph Higgs and Delton Jones, joined him in a wave of national news coverage. Together, they addressed the Progressive Conservative Caucus Sub-Committee on External Affairs, chaired by David Daubney. Although a survey revealed that more than 90% of Islanders favoured an association with Canada, Daubney concluded it would be inappropriate for Canada to unilaterally institute formal talks with the Turks & Caicos Islands in the midst of the Islands’ upcoming election. Instead, the Committee recommended that Canada increase foreign aid to the Turks & Caicos Islands, while also encouraging private sector investment.

In October 1987, Ralph Higgs and Delton Jones returned to Canada and, along with Dan McKenzie and other interested Canadians, created the Turks & Caicos Development Organization, a non-profit group that allows Canadians to become directly involved in the process of uniting the two countries. Last year, Peter Goldring introduced a motion to once again investigate the possibility of forming a union with the Turks & Caicos Islands. Unlike his predecessors, Goldring claims that there is more to a union between the two countries than a vacation spot for winter-weary snowbirds.

“I’ve been promoting this in Ottawa not as the obvious, the sand and sun, but as an economic benefit and a political influence in a complete region like the Caribbean,” said Goldring. “That, in my mind, is far more important to the benefit of Canada and the Turks & Caicos than simply emphasizing the tourist aspect of it. The tourist aspect is something that I think is relatively taken care of now.”

Goldring notes that the response across Canada runs in “the high 95%,” and believes there are a number of benefits for both countries. He cites a greatly expanded economy, universal health care, ready access to post-secondary education, and lower cost of goods and services as a few of the benefits for Islanders. In addition, says Goldring, there are many benefits for Canadians.

“One of the big benefits to the Islands is deep-water port. Deep-water port brings in container traffic [and] brings in far more economical price and cost of goods and services that are imported,” said Goldring. “Also, by having deep-water port, we fully engage shipping organizations — dare I say Paul Martin’s Canada Steamship Lines, for example — and try to return the Caribbean trade Canada had a hundred years ago. A hundred years ago, Canada’s maritime was a major trader in the region.”

“What this means for the Turks & Caicos is that it’s not just a destination of trade goods, it’s a port of furthering on of distribution of trade goods, which would make the Turks & Caicos a major trader in the area,” added Goldring.

One of the barriers preventing other Canadian politicians from joining Goldring’s cause is fear that talks of forming a union with the Turks & Caicos Islands will be perceived as neo-colonialism.

“It’s not annexing the Turks & Caicos, and I want to be very clear on that. The annexing kind of smacks of colonialism. This is not. You cannot have colonialism if two parties want to come together, that’s not colonialism. Colonialism is one party doing it where the other party has no choice,” said Goldring. “In this particular case, it would have to be a matching of two countries that want to join together for economic and social benefits. You would want to have a very substantial majority of both countries wanting to do so.”

For a union to take place, Britain would have to allow the Turks & Caicos Islands to enter into formal discussions with Canada. In addition, a majority of Islanders would have to vote in favour of a union.
“Given those circumstances, I talked to Governor Poston, and he said the British position [was that] if the people of the Turks & Caicos wished it and if they were partnering with a country that was able to properly assist the development — in other words, be a true partner to the country and would benefit the people of the country — then he sees no reason why England would not go along with the idea,” said Goldring.

Goldring also notes that the union could take one of several forms, from an economic or political relationship to a tri-partite arrangement with the United Kingdom. While it could also mean entry into the Canadian Confederation as its eleventh province, such a move would require amending the Canadian constitution, which is considered highly unlikely. An act of British Parliament brought Newfoundland, the last province to join Canada, into confederation in 1949. More likely is for the Turks & Caicos to join Canada as a territory, since an act of federal law can create a new territory, such as 1999’s creation of Nunavut.

Goldring, however, would rather see the Islands with full provincial status. “If they’re given territorial status, I don’t think it’s sufficient. If we look at the other territories in Canada, as wonderful as they are, they do not have external influences on politics. Mainly, it’s because they’re ice-locked for a good portion of the year with no, or few, ports of trading. You just can’t compare the two,” said Goldring. “Then, if you look at the status of the Turks & Caicos Islands, they know full well that with investment, they will develop into a strong influence in the Caribbean region, and that’s an external influence. If Canada can be part of that, starting from the get-go with provincial status is the appropriate status for it. Others may disagree, but that’s my personal feeling.”

Likewise, Michael Misick, Chief Minister of the Turks & Caicos Islands, recently declared his interest in discussing a “free association” with Canada, similar to the relationship between New Zealand and the Cook Islands. In January 2004, Goldring went on a fact-finding visit to the Turks & Caicos Islands, where he met with several high-ranking officials, including Misick and Governor James Poston. Goldring described the visit as “positive enough to know that it must be explored further,” and plans to keep looking into the possibility of a union. Liberal MP Massimo Pacetti has joined Goldring, proving that political differences can be put aside for a common good.

As the temperature creeps back up in the Great White North, talks of a union are heating up again. This past March, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin agreed to meet with Misick to further discuss the possibility of a formal association between the two nations. On April 21, Nova Scotia’s three political parties voted unanimously to invite the Turks & Caicos Islands to join the province if a union ever takes place. There’s a buzz in the air as Canadians from coast to coast become more acquainted with the Caribbean archipelago they one day hope to call home.

Steve Rennie is an honours student at the University of Ottawa. He regularly contributes to a number of newspapers and magazines and works in an editorial position at a major Canadian publisher. He has visited the Caribbean several times and has a keen interest in the region.



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On the Cover

Agile LeVin—photographer, explorer and chronicler of everything TCI on his website www.visittci.com—took this drone photo of the multi-textured wetlands of West Caicos. He was part of the expedition that investigated the site of the historic pirate attack in the area. For more information and photos, go to page 48.

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