Canada, the Caribbean and the Caicos

It’s 25 degrees and partly cloudy right now in the Turks and Caicos. Yesterday, daytime temperatures in Montréal didn’t rise above -15, and the wind chill plunged the mercury closer to -20. It was very difficult to enjoy a breath of fresh air, or a smoke and coffee, something I value greatly when working.

Suffice it to say my day-dreams lead me to look forward to seeing Spring again, and in particular Spring in the City, something I’ve missed for several years now. I’m not complaining about the weather, I choose to live here and I’d gladly put up with the worst Canadian Winter to enjoy a Montréal Summer. That said, I’d like to have the option of taking a vacation in a Canadian province located in the Caribbean.

I can hear you all thinking, ‘surely he gests!’

I’m not. I’m dead serious. And this particular example is demonstrative of a fault – a lack of imagination – emblematic of Canada as a nation.

Let me back track a bit.

Above is map of the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico. The Turks & Caicos are located just below the Bahamas and close to key Caribbean nations, such as Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. They are a British Overseas Territory and an important offshore financial centre, with a population of 45,000 souls. Most importantly, the islands and their residents currently lack self-government, and efforts to link the territory with Canada go back to 1917. Before we go any further, it should also be stated that there is a strong local interest in joining Canada.

That’s right – they want to become a Canadian province, and have been interested for more than forty years.

Why we haven’t capitalized on this incredible opportunity is both complicated yet ultimately maddening. One of the key issues preventing this voluntary annexation is that it would apparently require re-opening constitutional talks and would require all provinces agreeing to the annexation. Some believe that this would necessarily require re-opening direct constitutional talks with Québec (in essence, a replay of the Meech and Charlottetown Accords, which for those of you old enough to remember, effectively led directly to the 1995 Referendum, and was thus a colossal failure for the Mulroney Administration). This apparent fact led Nova Scotia to propose that the islands would join the province if it ever voted to join Canada directly, but the fed at the time failed to move the project any further. I suppose admitting the Turks & Caicos into Confederation as a province could potentially upset citizens of our Northern Territories, but then again, why not make them provinces too?

Another issue, one I remember being hotly debated in a shitty pastiche of then-novel Fox News styled interrogation-journalism on Global several years ago, was whether Canada should become ‘a colonizing nation.’ I remember being put-off by the tangental nature of the debate and hearing echoes of civil rights movement slogans diligently misused for effect. One of the talking heads was arguing that the tiny nation should become independent. Independent? Why? Liechtenstein has a similarly-sized population, but unlike the Turks & Caicos it has a highly developed economy and is the wealthiest per-capita nation in Europe. The Turks & Caicos has an infant mortality rate more than three times higher than Canada and is largely dependent on its tourism industry (which attracts a disproportionate amount of Canadian tourists to begin with). If they joined as a province, Canada could use its substantial resources to better the lives of the Islanders and create a more diversified local economy.

Moreover, we have a geo-strategic interest in the region, one that I fear most Canadians never really consider. For a Northern country, we are heavily implicated in the Caribbean. Consider the island nations adjacent to the Turks and Caicos – Cuba, a nation with whom we’ve had especially excellent diplomatic and trade relations since the Revolution. Haiti also figures prominently with regards to Canadian implications in the Caribbean, as there are more than 100,000 Canadians of Haitian descent and Haiti receives an exceptional amount of Canadian aid money. If the Turks & Caicos became Canadian, we’d be that much closer to where we’re needed, and where Canada could use its wealth and status to help stabilize the region. Canada’s military, the RCMP, Coast Guard and DFAIT would quickly seek to establish their presence on the islands, and for good reason. Crime has been on the rise for a considerable amount of time and in March of 2011, the two most senior police roles in the nation were handed over to Canadian law enforcement officials as part of a larger plan to eliminate corruption in the islands. A stronger local presence could mitigate the potential danger of international smuggling cartels passing through crucial Caribbean shipping lanes. Then there’s the fact that a local presence could quickly respond to major ecological and natural disasters, and act as a conduit for increased Caribbean immigration. We could develop new markets for our goods and services and develop new infrastructure mega-projects to serve the islands and the region, such as a new international airport or deep-water seaport. And I suppose while I’m listing off what could be, I may as well add that if the Canadian Space Agency ever wants to launch its own rockets, we could use a launch site a little closer to the Equator.

Just sayin’…

Yet despite the numerous advantages of further implicating ourselves in the Caribbean and putting the legislation in motion to create a new province, we sit around waiting, seemingly forever, completely unsure of how to proceed. For the moment, we lack vision so we need to turn to our past, to other countries to propose interesting ideas or solutions. Where are the Made-in-Canada solutions? Why don’t we break with our conventional understanding of who we are an look ahead to reality? I can’t see how a move such as this would be detrimental to either Canada or the Islanders.

What do you think?