Stow that dream of retiring in the Turks and Caicos (for now)

The premier of the Turks and Caicos didn't make a plea to join Canada during his visit to Parliament Monday, and Canada is loath to speak of annexation. But the island chain's premier didn't nix the idea entirely.

Canada and the Turks and Caicos have ruled out merger, but that doesn't mean it won't happen someday

Both Canada and the Turks and Caicos ruled out the notion of a merger between the two countries during a visit from the island chain's Premier Rufus Ewing, who said the door wasn't completely closed. (Turks and Caicos Tourist Board)

The premier of the Turks and Caicos didn't make a plea to join Canada during his visit to Parliament Monday, and Canada is loath to even speak of annexation with its implication of neo-colonialism.

Conservative MP Peter Goldring, who has championed the cause of the Turks and Caicos joining Canada for the past decade, also shies away from the word annexation.

Instead, Goldring, who was reached Monday in Ukraine where he has been monitoring the election, said he'd prefer that Canada offer the Caribbean island chain, now a British territory, provincial status.

Goldring doesn't believe making the Turks and Caicos a province would require a constitutional amendment, citing the example of the former British dominion of Newfoundland, which joined Confederation in 1949 using only the tool of a territory-wide, and very close, referendum.

But the repatriation of the Constitution in 1982 changed the rules so that the Constitution must be re-opened to allow the establishment of a new province. Constitutional talks can be deeply divisive.

NDP MP Malcom Allen, who, as a member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, met with Turks and Caicos Premier Rufus Ewing Monday, thinks it unlikely the country could become a "pure" province.

Canada's current territories might balk

"The three territories that are there now would probably not agree," Allen said. Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, each of which has a movement seeking provincial status, might be affronted by creating a new province out of a Caribbean island nation with a population of just over 30,000 people.

As well, if the Turks and Caicos were to become a province, it would have a veto in any constitutional amendment that requires unanimous consent of the provinces, an odd notion for a group of islands with no sense of Canada's history or traditions.

It would be simpler to make the Turks and Caicos another territory, or to do as Nova Scotia did in 2004 and vote to make the islands part of the province.

Although the concept of uniting with the tropical islands is often treated as a joke, or a wishful fantasy, the vote passed unanimously in the Nova Scotia legislature. However, discussions to pursue the notion have not happened.

Goldring said he is uncertain when a merger might be discussed seriously, but said, "We need to dance and start the engagement. It doesn't have to be a marriage."

He pointed out Canada already dominates the Turks and Caicos banking industry, and has built and supplied some of its schools and a hospital. The 40 or so uninhabited islands need causeways, he said, something Canada could construct.

Gateway to the Caribbean

The Turks and Caicos could be come a gateway to the Caribbean, Goldring continued, opening up inroads to the 10-million strong Cuban market that might soon materialize, and provide closer access to Haiti, where Canada with its Haitian diaspora of 82,000 has strong interests.

Allen likes the idea of a deep-water port built by Canadians so that the Turks and Caicos could connect with Halifax's port and facilitate seagoing traffic throughout the area. He explained the infrastructure in the Caribbean tends to be geared towards cruise ships, not container vessels.

"You'd have a stepping stone into the rest of the Caribbean," he said.

Allen said Ewing, who functions as a prime minister, or head of government, of the Turks and Caicos, spoke of the historic ties between his country and the Maritime provinces that date back two centuries. It wasn't just Caribbean rum and sugar that was funnelled to the Maritimes, but also salt from the Turks and Caicos for use in salt-cod which was then shipped back.

"They indicated that there is more that goes on between them and us and them and Britain," Allen said, adding Canada has no formal trade agreement with the Turks and Caicos.

A piece of Canada with a trade wind

For ordinary Canadians, a huge part of the fascination with the chain of islands is the idea of a piece of Canada with an average temperature ranging between 29 C and 32 C degrees, a trade wind and 350 days of sunshine.

The thought of retiring in a tropical island paradise where there's access to the Canadian health-care system and no need for extra medical insurance or a six-month visa is irresistible. It's one reason Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff Ray Novak joked with a reporter Monday, asking if she was considering buying real estate there.

Rufus Ewing, premier of the Turks and Caicos, said his visit to Canada was about seeking a better socioeconomic relationship. (Sean Kirkpatrick/Canadian Press)

And here's the thing. Premier Ewing, good-naturedly taking question after question from reporters about whether his country would join Canada, didn't entirely rule it out.

"I am not closing the door completely," he said, after stressing current discussions were about "mutual interests."

His country looks on Canada as a "big brother or big sister" he said, tossing in the thought that the relationship might evolve into a "relaxation of immigration issues" and "almost seamless borders."


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