Paradise Lost: Canada and Turks and Caicos

Why can’t we get our act together and make a serious proposal to annex the islands?

CALGARY, AB, Jun 2, 2014/ Troy Media/ – This past winter sucked. Everybody I know agrees with me, and various medical practitioners I have spoken with confirmed the anecdotal evidence. From coast to coast, Canadians were fed up with winter this winter.

Which leads me to my pet theory: that Canadians only have so many winters in them before we need to escape. I believe that number to be somewhere around 50 (no coincidence that I just turned that happy half century number.)

It also made me think about failed Canadian foreign policy, especially with the Turks and Caicos Premier Rufus Ewing paying us an official visit recently. Three times over the past 40 years, Canada has had the opportunity to add to our confederation by inviting the Turks and Caicos Islands into our union in some form or another. These islands are home to some 32,000 people, many of whom think joining up with our raggedy band of winter snowbirds is a dandy idea.

I’m amazed as to why this idea cannot seem to find traction with federal politicians. Turks and Caicos’ average temperature is 29 degrees Celsius, with a variance of just two degrees throughout the entire year. In other words, it is always summer on these islands. Can you imagine it? Of course you can’t – you’re Canadian.

It seems our provincial politicians are far easier to persuade. Nova Scotia politicians were on the case a decade ago. In 2004 they invited the islands to join the province in order to streamline and fast-track the inclusion process. The Islands would not have to be admitted as a separate province in this case and thereby avoid any nasty constitutional wrangling. An elegant, cunning solution. Bravo, Nova Scotians, bravo. And during this latest visit, the premiers of Saskatchewan and PEI tweeted invitations to do the same.

Is it any wonder then, when MP Peter Goldring brought the idea up in the House of Commons again in 2013, Premier Ewing was not overly enthusiastic, saying that Turks and Caicos Islanders would have to persuade him it was something that they wanted to do. Of course they would. What he was too polite to add was that it would be great if Canada could get its act together too and make a serious proposal.

In the 1990s, Islanders were keen to join Canada, with support for the proposed union sitting in the 90th percentile. In 2003, that percentage had dropped to 60 per cent. Hardly surprising when you propose marriage and are rebuffed twice. Your desire dwindles.

The usual reasons given for our continued disinterest are difficult constitutional discussions (reference Nova Scotia above), healthcare costs for the Islanders (probably no more than $20 per capita in extra taxes annually – I’d pay it), and discomfort with annexation (it sounds so colonial after all.) But I think the real reason is far simpler: international foreign policy has little idea how to handle such a situation.

Most types of annexation, especially of islands, are the result of either conquest or wars and subsequent treaties. Thus, Puerto Rico joined the U.S. as a territory in 1898 after the Spanish lost the Spanish-American War and ceded the island. It took Spain almost the entire 15th century to establish control over the Canary Islands, after many military campaigns.

So what happens when an island approaches a larger country in good faith, in peace time and of its own free will? There doesn’t seem to be a lot of past history for annexing an island under these circumstances. But just because it hasn’t been done, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing.

Full-blown provincial annexation is also not the only form of association open to us. I trust that Premier Ewing is acutely aware of this when he stated: “There’s no marriage without some kind of relationship.”

Again, the U.S provides a good example with American Samoa, which is an unorganized and unincorporated territory administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs, as is Guam. Or there’s even the free association agreement that the Cook Islands has with New Zealand, whereby New Zealand acts on foreign affairs and defence issues, but only with islanders’ advice and consent. And lest you think this is Canada’s first foray into possibly annexing a Caribbean island, we’ve also had interest from Bermuda, the Bahamas, Belize and even Jamaica over the years.

Whatever the way forward, I simply want there to be a way forward. Economic, political, or just plain twinning Turks and Caicos with PEI and/or Vancouver Island, let’s just get ‘er done. I feel another Canadian winter stalking me as I write this.

Lee Tunstall is an adjunct assistant professor in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Calgary and holds a PhD in History from the University of Cambridge.

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