It’s the time of year when Canadians begin to fantasize about laying in the sand, beverage in hand, and soaking up sun in some southern locale. But when travel isn’t exactly encouraged, it’s easy to dismiss these fantasies about sun, sand, and visiting a place where the air doesn’t hurt your face as “wishful thinking.”
But what if you didn’t have to leave Canada to find a place like this?
A Caribbean Connection
Composed of 40 low-lying islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands is home to clear, turquoise waters, white sand beaches, and shady palm trees. And for more than 100 years, Canadian leaders have floated the idea of inviting Turks and Caicos into the confederation.
Starting in 1917, Prime Minister Robert Borden first suggested annexing Turks and Caicos, only to have the British Parliament sink his proposal. Since then, leaders on all sides of the floor have entertained the thought of Canada having a Caribbean connection. Even Brad Wall jokingly tweeted an offer to the nation’s leader that they join Saskatchewan.
But what would Canada gain—and gain to lose—from having a claim in the Caribbean?
Looking at the sunny side of things
Take a moment to Google Turks and Caicos—we’ll wait. Even if you’re not a snowbird, or if picturesque paradises aren’t your thing, there are other advantages in forming a union with Turks and Caicos.
Citizens of Turks and Caicos are called “Belongers,” and with a population of 38,000, the island nation has numbers comparable to that of Prince Albert. This number may not look like much, but it has doubled since the 2000s and isn’t slowing—something Canada struggles with.
Since Boomers are aging, and the national birth rate is failing to maintain the population, experts look to immigration to keep Canada’s population stable—so why not look to a union to boost our numbers?
Turks and Caicos could also serve as the home base for Canada’s involvement in the Caribbean. Through services like the Caribbean Program, Canada aids 14 Caribbean countries in their economic and administrative capacities. A home office could signal Turks and Caicos as a realization of the program, and even allowing Canada to directly aid other countries too.
An expensive—and divisive—staycation
Although there is certainly more to be gained, those who think that Turks and Caicos could be a Canadian Hawaii or Puerto Rico might have some sun in their eyes.
There’s the question: would Turks and Caicos become a province or as a territory? As a province, this would still require seven signatures from current provincial leaders to open up the constitution. Which, today, is unlikely. Making the islands a territory would be simple, requiring a vote in the House and that’s that.
But there’s always a “but.”
As part of Canadian soil, Turks and Caicos would receive—breathe in—equalization payments—breathe out —or the similar Territorial Transfer Payments. And whether you love them or hate them, these payments are intended to see that Canadians in one province or territory have a similar quality of public services as their neighbours.
Given the high costs of living, the reliance on imported US goods, and few exports for trade, Turks and Caicos would be, and for little fault of their own, a “have not” province or territory. These payments would need to factor in costs of improving existing services, and their health standards, and—you can begin to see just the tip of the iceberg. This would be an expensive venture, not to mention a divisive one, given the current opinion of equalization payments.
And this is all without asking the most important question: do Belongers from Turks and Caicos want to belong to Canada?
Longing for belonging
Though Canadians have dreamt of Turks and Caicos sandy beaches for over a century, deep down we know the answer to the question.
And no, it’s not because they think we’re cheap and too strict—though we just might be. It’s because we’ve had to ask ourselves a similar question.
As it stands, Turks and Caicos is a British Oversea Territory (BOT), technically not a nation at all. Because of this, Belongers lack their own citizenship, instead holding BOT and British citizenships. The latter was only introduced in 2002, meaning that Belongers didn’t have the right of abode in the UK until then. And as recently as 2012, the UK even took direct rule of Turks and Caicos, stripping them of their autonomy.
As commonwealth cousins, shouldn’t we wish to see Belongers belong to themselves, not us?
Maybe the sun is in our eyes over this. Maybe it’s all just wishful thinking. But after months of winters like ours, sometimes a little wishful thinking can go a long way.