Searching For Sun

By Steve Rennie

It’s been more than one year since Conservative Member of Parliament Peter Goldring introduced a motion in the Canadian House of Commons calling for discussions to explore the possibility of a union between the Turks & Caicos Islands and Canada. While there has been some progress made, the two nations are still half a world away from any sort of formal alliance.

Despite numerous false starts, Canadians have long been interested in aligning with the Turks & Caicos Islands, dating back to 1917 when Prime Minister Robert Borden first suggested the idea of a union while cruising in the region. Nearly 20 years ago, two Turks & Caicos businessmen, Ralph Higgs and Delton Jones, joined Conservative MP Dan McKenzie to address the Progressive Conservative Caucus Sub-Committee on External Affairs. They produced a survey revealing that more than 90% of Islanders favoured an association with Canada.

At the time, committee Chair David Daubney concluded it would be inappropriate for Canada to unilaterally institute formal talks with the Turks & Caicos Islands during its upcoming election, and discussions subsided until Goldring introduced a motion in 2003 to once again investigate the possibility of forming a union between the two countries. However, two decades of inactivity have cooled most Islanders’ interest in aligning with Canada. “Understandably, it’s not at the 90% level it was reported to be at before. There’s been a lot that happened since then with the economic development that has come to the country,” said Goldring. “Still, it could be a very broad-based relationship. It’s far more than the sun and sand that had been discussed 20, 30 years ago.”

Canada’s federal election in June 2004 redirected Goldring’s efforts. He was appointed the Conservative Party’s Foreign Affairs Critic for the Caribbean on September 1, a position that expands his area of operation to all the Caribbean rim countries. He recently traveled to Barbados, Granada, St. Lucia, and Dominica on an eastern Caribbean exploratory trip to meet with both residents and government officials. “What I’m finding is that there is a real, viable interest throughout the Caribbean, certainly from the northern part where the Turks & Caicos are, as well as the southern part, toward South America, to be more actively engaged,” said Goldring.

Goldring reintroduced a motion in the House of Commons on December 15, 2004 calling for the Canadian government to begin exploratory discussions with the Turks & Caicos Islands to see if there is enough social and economic will for a union with Canada. Goldring is working with fellow politicians to prepare an application for a sub-committee to the Foreign Affairs Committee to the Caribbean. If the application is approved, the sub-committee hopes to take a group of cross-party parliamentarians to the Islands this fall to speak with the Islanders themselves.

How the Islanders will receive the delegation from Canada is another matter. The Turks & Caicos Islands are no longer the sleepy archipelago of 20 years ago. Now one of the fastest growing tourist destinations in the Caribbean, the Islands saw an increase in airlift of nearly 25% last year, with an additional 1,000 air seats per week and non-stop scheduled service from many destinations worldwide, including Atlanta, New York, Miami, London, and Toronto. In January 2004, Carnival Cruise Lines and the Turks & Caicos Islands government announced an agreement to construct a $35 million cruise ship terminal on Grand Turk. The terminal will bring an economic boost to Grand Turk by diversifying the island’s tourism product when it is completed in 2006. In early 2005, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company announced the opening of a resort on West Caicos, with subsequent residential development on the protected island to follow. The Islands’ recent economic strides have left many Islanders wondering how they would benefit from an association with Canada.

“Obviously, the Turks & Caicos are really moving ahead economically themselves. The cruise port will certainly help Grand Turk, but they still need to bring along the other islands. That’s where the real weight of Canada’s influence could be put: the infrastructure development of the other islands,” said Goldring. “It’s one thing to have the deep-water port at Grand Turk, but it would really benefit the entire country if they had a deep-water port in the Caicos chain, connected by causeways between the major islands.”

Goldring claims an association with Canada would benefit both countries economically, allowing the Islands to move away from a predominantly tourism-based economy. Many Islanders, he says, want their children to experience an assortment of other professions much more varied than the tourism industry. “Many of their children now are educated in North America and end up staying there, because the education they have doesn’t lend itself to opportunities on the Islands,” said Goldring. “These are things I think would be good for the country’s overall society, as well as the economy.”

Another benefit Canada could offer Turks & Caicos Islanders is added security. Goldring mentions the concerns of many Islanders over the recent political turmoil in Haiti and says a relationship with Canada could help ease security and immigration anxieties. “One of the concerns that is very close to the Turks & Caicos is the issue of Haiti,” said Goldring. “If there was a relationship, there could be a humanitarian base of people ready to react to difficulty that might be in the Turks & Caicos themselves, but also in neighboring areas.”

Although Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin has yet to respond to an invitation by TCI Chief Minister Honourable Dr. Michael Misick to visit the Turks & Caicos Islands, Goldring vows to continue pushing the issue in parliament. “It’s more being one to keep it on the forefront,” said Goldring. “I think the important thing is to plan on having a real dialogue with the Islanders themselves to be sure they’re part of the consultation and, if they have concerns, which I’m sure they do, to face them directly and have a discussion.”

Steve Rennie is an Ottawa-based freelance writer whose byline appeared in print more than 100 times last year. He recently completed a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in English at the University of Ottawa, and will begin Carleton University’s Master of Journalism program this fall. He is particularly interested in the Caribbean region, and has closely studied Canada’s relationship with the Turks and Caicos Islands.

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