Warm Thoughts

How Canada is paying for a missed golden opportunity

As Canadians in the east slowly emerge from a cold snap, their second in as many weeks, the extra time spent indoors gave people ample time to think. Some thought about the extremes in weather this year and the effect of human pollution on global climate patterns. In Canada, for instance, the past week saw temperature dip to -40 in the east (which is 15 degrees below average for the time of year) while in the west it was a balmy +10 degrees (almost 15 degrees above average for the time of year).

Others, however, turned their thoughts to missed opportunities. Sunny, and warm opportunities. In particular, a chain of tropical islands, a little touch of the Caribbean, just east of Cuba.

Middle Caicos

Sixteen years ago, residents of the Turks & Caicos islands came cap in hand asking Canada to consider annexing their string of impoverished Caribbean islands. It would have meant an instant tropical vacation destination that would actually be a part of Canada dealing in Canadian dollars, with Canadian Mounties as police and no need to clear customs.

Yet the then conservative government of Brian Mulroney turned down the offer, citing that concerns over racial tension and international image. In reality, the real reason was that there was no economic benefit to Canada taking over the Turks & Caicos.

All that has since changed. Almost two decades later, tourism in the Turks & Caicos is booming. No one pays taxes and the living is easy.

Everyone in Canada talks about weather perhaps more than any other subject. Nobody of course can do anything about it, but when presented with the opportunity of taking over a string of islands in the sun, it makes you wonder why Canada didn't jump at the chance.

At the time, the elected government of the Turks & Caicos islands had been dissolved by London and in the interim period they were being ruled directly by the UK. There was much concern and unhappiness because of this, coupled with the fact that the islands were going through some tough times economically. Thus, in 1987 the people of the Turks & Caicos were looking for a quick fix solution, in where they would be able to get back their own elected government instead of direct rule from the UK, or an alternative. And that alternative included a close association with Canada.

This wasn't the first time that a sunny, warm Caribbean island wanted to link up with cold, snowy Canada to the north. The people of Jamaica approached the Canadian government in the mid 1880's wanting to be a part of the confederation, but at that time Canada was concerned with the building of the railway from coast to coast and there was an uprising in northern Saskatchewan which had the government's attention. Likewise, at the end of the First World War a delegation from the West Indies asked to join Canada but again, citing concern about internal issues, the government refused. The same thing happened in the 1970's, with the last attempt being the Turks & Caicos in 1987.

The last time Canada took over a territory was in 1949, when Newfoundland joined the confederation. But aside from being a topic of conversation on very cold winter nights, the chance of a Caribbean island actually joining Canada is very slim. Unlike the existing provinces and territories, there is no territorial integrity with the Caribbean. And many Canadians have qualms about the image of being a colonial power, unlike their neighbour to the south. Moreover, since the country has a system of universal health care, adding more to this system might be a burden, indeed.

Still, some can't help but speculate at what if the Turks & Caicos had become a part of Canada. Without doubt, if the extreme winter that was shall become more frequent and the opportunity arises once again, many more would be willing to do away with their anti-colonial views, along with their winter coats, and take their place in the sun. (John Horvath)