Turks and Caicos: Canada’s Tropical Pipe Dream

By Adam Wilson 

The Canadian annexation of the Caribbean islands of Turks and Caicos is something Canadian politicians seem to dream up in the cold winter months, when they’re stuck inside their Ottawa offices because their car doors are frozen shut. And every so often, this outlandish idea gets some traction, which then forces more astute politicians and policy-makers to step up and explain why Turks and Caicos should not become Canada’s eleventh province. The main reason being that it makes zero political or economic sense to annex the islands. Of course, when it’s negative 30 degrees outside, and you’re debating skipping class so that your eyelashes don’t freeze shut, the economic implications might not seem all that important.

The pipe dream of annexing Turks and Caicos has a long history in Canada. Former prime minister Robert Borden first proposed the idea in 1917, when he suggested that Canada annex the islands from the British Empire. Now the term ‘annex’ here makes it seem as if Canada was prepared to do something drastic to add a sunny holiday destination to our list of provinces, but in reality he simply asked the British nicely and was then promptly rebuffed. Yet, the idea did not die with former prime minister Borden.

In 1974, MP Max Saltsman introduced a private member’s bill which called for the annexation of the islands. Obviously, it went nowhere. Again in 1986, Conservative MP Dan McKenzie brought up the idea in his party’s caucus committee on external affairs; the caucus rejected the motion due to concerns surrounding immigration, banking, health care, and tourism. One might hope politicians could learn something from baseball and apply a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ rule to this proposition, but as you might already know, the dream lives on to this day.

In 2013, MP Peter Goldring met with the Premier of the island, Rufus Ewing, to discuss the idea once more. Ewing initially stated that the islands had no interest in pursuing a union in 2013, but when he visited Canada in 2014 he stated that he had not shut the door on the idea completely.

In the 1990s, polls suggested that as many as 90 percent of Turks and Caicos residents supported a union between the islands and Canada. That number diminished by 2003, when polls indicated that approximately 60 percent of residents approved the union.

With the talk of a union between both nations abundant in Canada, it’s important to look at whether the people of Turks and Caicos are truly interested in becoming part of our snowy, and for the most part desolate, country. In the 1990s, polls suggested that as many as 90 percent of Turks and Caicos residents supported a union between the islands and Canada. That number diminished by 2003, when polls indicated that approximately 60 percent of residents approved the union. The rich history of Canada’s desire to form a union, in addition to the high polling numbers among residents of Turks and Caicos, leads to the conclusion that there is perhaps interest from both countries in pursuing a union. The question remains: Would it make any economic or political sense?

The Canadian annexation of Turks and Caicos would be no simple ordeal. Even if there were broad public consensus, adding another province to Canada would require a constitutional amendment. In order to amend the Canadian constitution, it needs to be approved by Parliament, and then by at least seven of the provinces, representing 50 percent of the population. Even if the amendment managed to get approval, there are still several significant issues that would need to be resolved. Canada would have to take on any debt currently held by Turks and Caicos, and would also have to invest significant resources into bringing health and education standards in Turks and Caicos up to Canadian standards. Then again, with the Canadian federal government running a projected $29.4-billion deficit, allocating some extra money towards Turks and Caicos so that we have somewhere to escape during the winter doesn’t seem all that unreasonable. Alas, there are more logistical issues.

The ensuing flight of the wealthy to Turks and Caicos would drive up the cost of living and real estate on the island, which could potentially prove detrimental to the local population.

Turks and Caicos is roughly the size of Toronto land-wise, and has a population of only 51,000. Given the small size of Turks and Caicos, the likelihood of the islands catering to Canada’s lower and middle class snowbirds is approximately zero. Rather, Turks and Caicos would end up being the sunny destination for Canada’s upper class retirees and business executives. The ensuing flight of the wealthy to Turks and Caicos would drive up the cost of living and real estate on the island, which could potentially prove detrimental to the local population.

If Canada were to successfully pursue a union, we would not be gaining our own Florida or Hawaii. We would be gaining a relatively tiny territory where Canada’s wealthy would buy up beachfront properties, crowd out the locals, and prevent Canada’s lower and middle income earners from ever taking advantage of it.  Most of the Canadian public would simply continue their tradition of booking winter getaways to Mexico and Cuba. Given these obstacles and potential complications, it’s time we put this idea to rest once and for all.

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