What has made the Turks & Caicos Islands so appealing to some Canadian politicians over the years? As far back as 1917, Britain rejected Prime Minister Robert Borden’s proposal for the chain of islands to become part of Canada. Four decades ago, late New Democrat Max Saltsam’s private members’ bill to annex the islands failed to get through the House of Commons.
In 2004, the Nova Scotia legislature passed a motion for the islands to join the Maritime province if it ever became part of Canada. Shortly after a visit in January of that year to explore potential business opportunities for the islands and Canada, Conservative Member of Parliament Peter Goldring raised the idea of annexation.
Over the last decade, Goldring – a former Conservative Party foreign affairs critic for the Caribbean – has been calling for Canada to offer the Turks & Caicos provincial status.
When the islands’ Prime Minister, Dr. Rufus Ewing, led a delegation to Ottawa last week to promote stronger ties between the two countries and meet his Canadian counterpart Stephen Harper, he was forced to answer questions relating to the age-old annexation issue after Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall offered to welcome the Turks & Caicos to his province.
“I am not closing the door completely,” said Ewing, who is a medical doctor. “It’s not my mandate to do so. It’s my mandate to see Turks & Caicos have sustainable economic growth and development with a strong democracy.”
Ewing, who trained in paediatric general surgery at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax in the late 1990s, said he has never spoken to Wall about the issue or visited Saskatchewan.
“I have been to Ontario, Ottawa, the Maritimes and British Columbia,” he said. “They are all lovely provinces, and so I would love to have a relationship with all of them. While training, I remember vividly walking in three feet of snow in Halifax.”
Canada’s foreign affairs minister, John Baird, made it clear that annexation is not imminent.
“We are not in the business of annexing islands in the Caribbean to be part of Canada,” he said. “That’s not something we are exploring. We are not looking at any formal association with the island.”
Newfoundland was the last British territory to join Canada, becoming the 10th province in March 1949.
A British Overseas Territory, offshore finance and tourism are the Turks & Caicos’ main revenue source. Thousands of Canadians holiday on the islands, which was subjected to a self-rule suspension by the British government five years ago after a commission of inquiry found evidence of widespread corruption among the ruling elite. The suspension was lifted in 2010 at about the same time that former Prime Minister Michael Misick was arrested in Brazil for allegedly engaging in real estate development corruption.
Once on the list of countries and territories deemed uncooperative tax havens by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development, the Turks & Caicos – along with Bermuda, the Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Anguilla and Montserrat – signed agreements a year ago promising they will share information with Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain as part of a global drive against tax evasion.
A dependency of Jamaica, the Turks & Caicos became a crown colony when Jamaica achieved its independence from Britain on August 6, 1962.
Ewing said formalizing closer ties with Canada was his main reason for visiting Ottawa.
“We are looking for that kind of relationship that I can see making an impact,” he said. “What I am putting on the table is for us to explore areas of mutual benefit in terms of policy perspective more than a memorandum of understanding. I wouldn’t put it as robust as a trade agreement. It’s something a little bit more formative than what we have now.”
Ewing, who is also his islands’ tourism minister, was in Toronto last Tuesday to open a new tourism office at 340 Sheppard Ave. E.
His wife – Dr. Dawn Perry – is a gynaecologist at Cheshire Hall Medical Centre, one of two medical facilities in the Turks & Caicos developed, constructed and operated by InterHealth Canada, which is a global healthcare management firm that specializes in the development and management of health care facilities and projects around the world.
InterHealth’s head office is on Bay Street in downtown Toronto.