It’s Time Canada Talks Turks and Caicos

Matteo Pirri

Maybe it’s the consistent -30° temperatures, or maybe it was that ice storm that jeopardized my family Christmas dinner, or perhaps it’s the revelation that ‘frost quakes’ and ‘polar vortices’ exist. Whatever it is I haven’t been too thrilled with what this winter has had in store for us over the past couple of months…

During this time of the year many Canadians flee from the worst of winter’s offerings, finding solace on the sunny beaches of Mexico, the Caribbean, and the southern United States. While many Canadians suffer the trials and tribulations associated with international travel, they do so gladly if it means a bit of respite from the Canadian cold. But wouldn’t it be nice if we Canadians had a southern destination to call our own? A place where vacationers could travel without having to worry about currency exchange rates, customs, and language barriers–all the while supporting the Canadian economy?

Well, what if I told you that such an arrangement has been in the works for almost a century, albeit at the back-burner of Canadian political consciousness?

In 1917 Prime Minister Robert Borden first proposed the idea that Canada should seek a political union with Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), an archipelago of about 40 islands located at the southeastern end of the Bahamas chain in the Caribbean. Nearly 100 years later there have been a number of political pushes, but little actual movement towards this union. Today, the mantle for keeping the idea of a Canada-TCI union alive has been taken up by Peter Goldring, a Conservative Member of Parliament representing Edmonton East. Despite Mr. Goldring’s efforts over the past decade to put a Canada-TCI union on the country’s national agenda, there has been little political or popular will to discuss the topic in serious manner, with the Canadian government neither dismissing the idea outright, nor doing much in terms of action. Is this the most pressing policy issue facing the country at the moment? No. But are there benefits to be had for Canada in such a relationship with the Caribbean nation? Definitely.

The tourism argument for seeking a union with TCI is by far the strongest one. TCI is a growing tourism destination in the Caribbean, with international travel to the islands increasing year-over-year. In 2006 upwards of $160 million (U.S.) in tourism dollars poured into the islands. While this number might not seem significant upon first glance, it is enhanced through the revelation of just how small TCI is as a nation, being home to a population of only 31,500. It would not be hard to imagine a situation in which the islands could be developed into a substantial addition to the Canadian tourism industry.

Other benefits to Canada in pursuing a union with TCI include: enhanced access to Central and South American markets, reducing the costs of trade, and increasing the availability of more goods and services from the region. An argument could also be made that a union with the TCI would improve Canadian national unity by providing a common destination for Canadian vacationers across this vast country to meet and interact with one another in a setting of relaxation and leisure.

It should also be noted that the benefits of a union would not be one sided, as TCI would gain in a number of ways as well. Namely, TCI could potentially benefit from federal transfer payments to bolster a number of services on the Islands that are in need of support, from health to education and infrastructure. This outcome is contingent on the type of union that is pursued by the two nations, but it is one primary benefit for the Islands, among many.

The closest Canada ever came to achieving a union with TCI was in the late 1980s. However, at that time Canada’s national attention was focused on free trade with the United States and the notion of a union between the country and a small Caribbean nation largely fell on deaf ears. TCI has recently expressed an interest in increased ties with Canada, but this time in a more economic sense as opposed to a political one as the Islands continue to grow in tourism–and economic–prominence. In 2004 Nova Scotia formally invited TCI to become a part of its province, but this invitation has been left hanging.

If Canada continues to ignore the prospect of a more formalized union with Turks and Caicos Islands there is a good chance that the sun will soon set on the opportunity for the Great White North to have an island paradise to call its own. Letting this opportunity pass us by without so much as a national debate on the matter would be unfortunate and one we as a country would surely come to regret, especially during these increasingly harsh and cold winter months.

Matteo Pirri is a 2015 Master of Public Policy Candidate at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy & Governance. He holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Toronto, from which he graduated last June.

[Image Source: Matthew Straubmuller]

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