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World

Canada's Strange Quest for its Own Hawaii

Country's neocolonial dreams may boil down to vacation planning

Turks & Caicos — where is it?, Graphic: The Washington Post
By The News Whatsapp Twitter Facebook Share
1 year ago

ISHAAN THAROOR

THE WASHINGTON POST

On the face of it, Canada and the Turks and Caicos Islands do not have much in common.

One country is a continental behemoth of snow-capped mountains, ice-clogged bays and frost-covered plains. The other is a small cluster of sun-kissed islands and not even a country at all, but rather a territory still under the suzerainty of the British crown.

But they are united by a curious dream — that the Caribbean archipelago may one day actually join Canada as the North American nation’s newest province.

Let’s be clear: Not that many people share this dream.

But the prospect of political union has been discussed in both places for quite some time — ever since 1917, in fact, when then Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden unsuccessfully floated the idea with London. And it’ll be on the docket at this weekend’s convention of the New Democratic Party, which has the third-most seats in the Canadian Parliament.

Canadian politicians are gunning to inherit the gorgeous coastline of Turks and Cacos from Great Britain. Photo: Creative Commons

Canadian politicians are gunning to inherit the gorgeous coastline of Turks and Cacos from Great Britain. Photo: Creative Commons

Granted, the NDP’s members have more pressing things to talk about, not least a tricky clash over the leadership of the party, which suffered dramatic losses in last year’s national elections. But a resolution — one of dozens proposed in the official pre-meeting NDP communique — mentions the “potential for Canada to develop the islands into an affordable Tourism Industry for all.”

It then moves to conclude that Canada should encourage “engaging with the peoples and government of Turks and Caicos Islands, and the British government to have the Turks and Caicos Islands become Canada’s 11th Province.” (Canada currently comprises 10 provinces and three territories.)

There is a kind of logic to the argument. Over the course of its history, Canada subsumed various other British territories under its dominion. Unlike the United States’ own battle for independence, Canada’s political separation from Britain was an evolution by mutual consent. If certain British-run islands in the Pacific can fall under the jurisdiction of New Zealand or Australia, surely the same could in principle be true for Canada with territories in the Atlantic.

Of course, what works in theory can still be silly in practice. Should the archipelago’s residents agree — public enthusiasm for a closer association with Canada, though high in the past, has ebbed — then comes the far trickier process of convincing the British Queen to relinquish a prized asset.

The political reasoning among annexation’s chief Canadian proponents can arguably be boiled down to a desperate desire for warm weather.

“Canada really needs a Hawaii,” said Conservative politician Peter Goldring in 2014. “The United States has a Hawaii. Why can’t Canada have a Hawaii?”

The Turks and Caicos has a population of roughly 40,000 people and myriad tourist hotspots, from beaches to golf courses, popular among Canadians. The archipelago is said to be possibly one of the first spits of land Christopher Columbus spied and perhaps alighted upon when he voyaged across the Atlantic in 1492.

It was overseen by the British from Jamaica until that Caribbean nation won its independence in 1962. A fledgling independence movement in the Turks and Caicos Islands lost steam in the 1980s. Its residents have British citizenship and experienced direct rule from London between 2009 and 2012 as British authorities attempted to clean up corruption in the archipelago, which also for a time served as a lucrative off-shore tax haven for wealthy global elites.

It’s unlikely this new NDP motion, lost among scores of other resolutions, will be taken all that seriously by the delegates present in Edmonton. But, as far-fetched as it sounds, it’s not even the first time this party has publicly contemplated making the archipelago part of Canada.

In 1973, Max Saltsman, an NDP member of parliament, put forward a motion to annex the Turks and Caicos Islands — then administratively run from Bermuda, which is also a British overseas territory — on the grounds that it would keep Canadian tourist dollars in Canada. “At the time,” the Globe and Mail notes, “Turks and Caicos had only eight hotels, no fresh water and a population of less than 6,000.” The private member’s bill never reached the floor of Canada’s House of Commons.

Others picked up the baton in the years since. Most notably, Goldring championed the cause for a decade until stepping down from parliament last year.

In 2004, the government of Nova Scotia offered the archipelago the chance to become part of its province, should the Turks and Caicos Islands formally join Canada in the future — a gesture that would have spared politicians in Ottawa from having to pass a constitutional amendment to create a new province.

But talk of a Canadian Hawaii cooled after the archipelago’s premier, Rufus Ewing, visited Ottawa in 2014.

“I won’t be too hasty to jump from one mother’s nest to another mother’s nest — one master to another,” he told Canadian reporters at the time. “That is something that the people of the Turks and Caicos have to demonstrate to me that they want and then take it from there.”

Leading Canadian officials batted down the possibility, as well.

“The premier who’s here isn’t asking to become the 11th province and we’re not in the business of annexing islands in the Caribbean to be part of Canada,” said then Canadian foreign minister John Baird. “So that’s not something that we’re exploring. We’re not looking at any sort of formal association with the islands.”

In his last speech before parliament in June 2015, Goldring didn’t give up hope.

“When Canada and the Turks and Caicos first engaged, nearly 150 years ago, wooden windmills pumped sea water to expansive evaporation pans for harvesting the ocean’s salt,” he lectured, with helpful historical detail. “Canadian fishermen purchased large quantities of this salt for their offshore fleet of fishing boats, which needed this salt for fish preservation.”

Goldring described efforts to join the archipelago with Canada still as a “work in progress.”

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