Business leaders and politicians resurrect idea of Canadian, Caribbean union
Date: Monday, March 15 2004
Topic: Canadian Politics
It's a dream that just won't die -- a Canadian paradise in the sun with sugar-sand beaches, crystal clear water, medicare and the loonie.
After failed attempts in the 1970s and 1980s to breathe life into the idea of a union between Canada and the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean, the proposal is back, and this time it's supported by determined politicians and business people in both countries.
"In the long term, what is so absolutely vital for Canada is to expand our sphere of influence," says Conservative MP Peter Goldring, a driving force behind the Turks and Caicos movement.
"We had a sphere of influence in the Caribbean 100 years ago. Canada was a major shipper and transporter to the Caribbean from the Maritime provinces. We have lost that direct Maritime link with the Caribbean."
Goldring has organized an all-party committee of Parliamentarians as well as a group of business leaders to lay the groundwork for a possible union between Canada and the Caribbean Island.
"I'd like it to be the 11th province," Goldring says.
"It would be a Canadian province at the gateway to the Caribbean."
He thinks even Prime Minister Paul Martin might go for the idea.
"It would give Canada Steamship Lines the opportunity to register its fleet in a part of Canada," Goldring says with a smile, referring to the shipping company once owned by Martin that sails most of its fleet under foreign flags.
Ralph Higgs, a senior government official based in the Turks and Caicos capital of Cockburn Town, said in a telephone interview there is genuine and sincere interest among islanders in a union of some sort with Canada.
"We will talk and come up with something that is beneficial to both parties,'' Higgs said.
"It will be, in the final analysis, for the leaders of our countries to decide the best form for that relationship, whether it's provincial status, free association or overseas territory. We'll look at the pros and cons of each one and decide which is best for both parties.''
For two decades, beginning in the early 1970s, the islands in the Caribbean made a series of proposals to join Canada.
The idea of spending Canadian dollars to soak up Canadian rays on toasty Canadian beaches has always played well in the winter-weary Great White North.
Islanders who supported the plan saw business opportunities and a chance to improve their standard of living by importing elements of Canada's social safety net, including medicare.
But when the implications of annexation were explored, interest cooled.
An External Affairs study released in 1987 warned that annexation of the islands _ population 25,000 _ could lead to racial tension, would be too expensive and would provide little or no benefit to Canada.
The archipelago of 30 islands lies east of Cuba, south of the Bahamas and north of Haiti. It's about 3,500 kilometres south of the Maritimes.
The British colony has 400 kilometres of white beaches and 800 kilometres of virgin reef for divers and snorkellers.
"This comes at a propitious time because the islands are re-evaluating their relationship with Great Britain," says Ottawa businessman Richard Pearson whose lobby group, A Place in the Sun, is pushing for a union.
Pearson says there are movers and shakers involved in the drive for an association with the Turks and Caicos, including former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna, who is currently considering a run for federal office.
Goldring says the concerns expressed in the report two decades ago, including the distance, are no longer relevant.
"The world is very much different now," he says.
"Communications are instant. Computers and portable cellular phones have taken big business into small communities. September 11 has caused us to appreciate and value personal security and friendly places to visit."
Goldring says this early stage of the process involves getting the word out to Canadians that a union with the Caribbean country may be possible.
"There's a lot of disappointment Canada didn't see the light 20 years ago," he says.
"We want to do it right this time."
By Chris Morris | Canadian Press