If you’re looking for the petition to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, click here.
Last Monday the Premier of the Turks and Caicos Islands, Rufus Ewing, was in Canada visiting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The purpose of the trip was to “boost ties” between the two countries. It was about trade, which most people would agree is a fairly typical kind of meeting.
However, this meeting struck a different headline in the media. And that’s because–for almost a century–there have been discussions and proposals put forward in this country to annex the Turks and Caicos Islands. The earliest record appears to be from 1917 when Prime Minister Robert Borden first suggested it.
Since then, the idea has been raised on many other occasions. In fact, both Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan have actually stepped forward and formally invited the Turks and Caicos to join their provinces. Here’s what Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall had to say during this most recent visit:
“I think we want to be constructive in Saskatchewan. If the Prime Minister’s looking for a way to make this happen and doesn’t want to go through the challenge of creating a province or territory, and Turks and Caicos want to make this happen, just, you know, we’d like a tropical island.“
Presumably this approach would be easier than creating an 11th province or 4th territory. But despite these offers and efforts over the years, the idea has always been ultimately rejected. Following this week’s meeting, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird stepped forward and also firmly rejected the idea:
"We’re not in the business of annexing islands in the Caribbean to be part of Canada. So that’s not something that we’re exploring. We’re not looking at any sort of formal association with the islands.”
But I think that’s a mistake.
We should be giving serious consideration to this opportunity and, today, I’m going to outline a few of the reasons why I think that. At the end of this post, I will then ask you to sign a petition that I have started using Change.org that is addressed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The petition asks him to formally consider the annexation of the Turks and Caicos.
About the Turks and Caicos
But before I dive in, here’s a bit of background on the Turks and Caicos. The country is a collection of approximately 40 islands–most of which are uninhabited. They are a British Overseas Territory, but are self governing. However, from August 2009 to November 2012 the UK temporarily suspended its ability to self govern following allegations of corruption and fiscal mismanagement.
The country has a population of just over 36,000 people and a nominal GDP of around $728 million. The main drivers of the economy are tourism and offshore financial services. The biggest sources of tourists are the US and Canada. Each year approximately 42,000 Canadians visit the Turks and Caicos. To put these numbers into perspective, the population of of Toronto’s St. Jamestown neighborhood alone, is thought to be around 25,000 people.
The land area of the country is approximately 613 square kilometres, which results in a population density of 51 people per square kilometre. For comparison, the land area of the City of Toronto alone (not the Greater Toronto Area) is almost equal at roughly 630 square kilometres. The population density averages around 4,150 people per square kilometre.
Now, onto why I believe we should be looking at a union. Here are 5 reasons.
1. They are open to the idea
Canada is not globally known as an imperialistic country and I’m not suggesting we change that. But here we have a case where the Turks and Caicos appears clearly open to the idea of some form of union. Why would we not consider it? And as long as they remain open to the idea, travellers will be able to continue placing the Canadian flag on their backpacks as a way to win friends overseas.
2. We’re aligned
Given that the Turks and Caicos is a British Overseas Territory, the country uses the common law system and the official language is English. (They’re missing French, but I’m sure that could be worked out.) We even share the same monarch. (Although, deep down inside I wish Canada was a republic.) These commonalities would make a proposed union all that much easier.
3. Vacationing and retirement
This is the obvious one that is getting most of the attention in the press. Canada is cold and we spend a lot of money traveling to warmer places. But if Canada had a province that was blessed with the weather of a place like the Turks and Caicos, I’d wager that it would receive a disproportionate amount of our travel and retirement dollars. All of a sudden you eliminate currency risk and the fear of foreign health care, which are both particularly important for retirees. This means that a lot more money would be kept within the Canadian economy. Sorry, Florida.
4. Access to education
53% of the labour force in the Turks and Caicos is made up of unskilled and manual labour. If they are serious about developing their economy beyond tourism, then I believe that education needs to become a significant part of their economic development platform. Thankfully, a union between our country and theirs would open up Canadian universities to the roughly 36,000 people who live in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Our universities are some of the most highly ranked in the world.
5. Economic development
Finally, let’s talk economic development.
Canada is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. And we consistently rank amongt the highest in the world in terms of education, transparency, quality of life and economic opportunities. It’s for these reasons that we’re perceived as a great place to live and invest. About one of the only things we don’t typically offer is great weather.
A union with the Turks and Caicos would obviously change that. But beyond just weather, it would also give Canada a foothold in an important region of the world and provide a stable locale for foreign investment. Similar to the way in which Miami has become the “Capital of Latin America”, the Turks and Caicos could become a meaningful center for trade and investment backed by Canadian stability.
This would benefit not only Canada, but also the Turks and Caicos, who have struggled over the years with fiscal mismanagement and corruption. In fact, the biggest challenge, I think, would be managing overdevelopment and ensuring that the growth and development happens in the most environmentally sustainable way possible.
Petitioning Stephen Harper
So there you have it, 5 reasons for why Canada should seriously consider a union and/or the potential annexation of the Turks and Caicos Islands. If you have any other ideas, or if you completely disagree with everything I said, I would love to hear from you in the comment section below.
But if you did find these reasons compelling, then I would encourage you to sign and share this petition addressed to the Prime Minister of Canada, so that we can move forward with a meaningful exploration of what this could mean for both countries. I think it could be mutually beneficial.