At the time this article was
written Ian A. Stuart was Vice- President of the Turks & Caicos Development
Organization of Canada.
Few Canadian parliamentarians
remain unaware of the much-discussed issue of Canada forming some type of
Association with the Turks & Caicos Islands, a British Crown Colony
immediately south of the Bahamas, composed of some 40 islands and cays. On
March 3, 1988, the people of the Islands went to the polls and gave an overwhelming
majority to a new Government. The People's Democratic Movement (PDM) under the
Honourable Oswald O. Skippings, former Leader of the Opposition, won 11 of the
13 voting districts, sweeping all the Islands except South Caicos, a
traditional stronghold of the Progressive National Party (PNP) who formed the
previous Government. The new Government, under Mr. Skippings, stated that one
of its first priorities will be a close examination of the relationship between
Canada and the Turks & Caicos Islands, and, provided Britain agrees, within
the next few months, major steps towards forming some type of Association
between the two countries is a very real possibility. In the meantime,
Canadians continue flowing into the Islands in record numbers, buying property,
building retirement homes, establishing businesses and making investments. The
economy of the Turks & Caicos clearly is benefitting even from the idea of
the proposed partnership.
Christopher Columbus first
discovered the Turks and Caicos archipelago in 1492. In fact the
well-substantiated "Link" theory pinpoints the capital island of
Grand Turk as the explorer's first landfall in the New World, regardless of the
claim by National Geographic that the site was Samana Cay in the Bahamas.
Re-discovered by Ponce De Leon on an expedition from Puerto Rico, the islands
remained uninhabited until Britain, France and Spain fought over them in the
battle between the great European powers for the riches of the West Indies.
They finally wound up in British hands, and have remained a British possession
For hundreds of years, the Turks
& Caicos were the principal Salt Islands. The once-dubbed "white
gold" was produced by solar evaporation in vast salinas by generations of
back-breaking labour. But this industry collapsed in the mid-sixties, forcing
the Islands to follow the rest of the Caribbean and reorient themselves to a
future in tourism, the building of winter homes and retirement communities for
affluent North Americans, the modernization and expansion of the fishing
industry (with special reference to mariculture) and the development of an
offshore financial centre based on a tax-free economy.
The idea of union with this second
largest cluster of islands in the Western Hemisphere was first suggested by
Canadian Prime Minister Borden in 1917, but not until the 1970s did it receive
serious attention when - at the urging of Islanders - Max Saltsman, an NDP
Member of Parliament, initiated a debate in the House of Commons through a
Private Member's Bill. Although the Government of the day rejected the concept,
it has remained an issue of perennial popularity.
When Mr. Saltsman died, the torch
was passed to Conservative MP Dan McKenzie (Winnipeg-Assiniboine), and in April
1986, the next generation of Islanders joined with him to make it a major issue
in Canada once again. Ralph Higgs and Dalton Jones arrived in Ottawa as a
two-man contingent from the Turks & Caicos Development Organization, a
group of private citizens drawn from a wide cross section of the Turks &
Caicos community, their primary goal being to "forge a link with
Canada". They had commissioned an independent survey (the first ever taken
in the Islands) and discovered that over 90% of the people indeed favoured some
kind of Association with Canada. Higgs and Jones addressed the Progressive
Conservative Caucus Sub-Committee on External Affairs chaired by David Daubney,
MP (Ottawa West), and their visit received national television and print media
coverage, underlining the popular appeal the concept seems to generae in
There was a substantial wait for
the results of the "Daubney Report", which concluded that it would be
inappropriate for Canada to unilaterally institute formal talks with the Turks
& Caicos when an election was imminent in the Islands, and Canada could not
be seen to be interfering in the internal, free democratic process in another
country. But the Committee did suggest that Canada should enter into talks with
the newly elected Turks & Caicos Government (a ministerial system somewhat
similar to Canada's) after the elections provided the new Government asked for
such talks and the permission of the British Government was given. The
Committee also made two additional recommendations. The first was that Canada
should increase its foreign aid to the Turks & Caicos, given the
extraordinary degree of good will involved, and that the Canadian private
sector should consider investing in the Islands.
These two recommendations were
major steps forward and Mr. Higgs' returned to Canada in October 1987 and
joined with Mr. McKenzie and other interested Canadians to form the Turks &
Caicos Development Organization of Canada, a non-profit organization that
allows Canadians to become directly involved in the process of bringing the two
Commonwealth neighbours together. With donations from Cabinet Ministers,
Members of Parliament and private citizens, the Organization became active in
November 1987, and now has hundreds of members from across Canada, including
all ten provinces, both territories, and even the United Kingdom and the United
The concept of union with Canada is
one that fires the popular imagination in Canada and offers none to Islanders
seeking a better future. There are several forms the relationship might take.
It might be economic, political or both. It might be a tri-partite arrangement
with the United Kingdom. It might mean entry into the Canadian Confederation as
the 11th province or the third territory. It might be based on relationships
such as those between New Zealand and th Cook Islands, Australia and the Cocos
Islands, or the United States and some of its Trust Territories in the Pacific.
It might, instead, mimic the relationship France has with Monaco or Martinique,
or that between the Netherland Antilles and the Netherlands. Perhaps
Commonwealth status might be chosen, such as the plan selected by the people of
Puerto Rico in their deal with the United States. Whatever form the
relationship takes, Mr. Higgs and his sister organizations feel that it should
not be pre determined. "We have never tried to second-guess the
politicians as to what form of Association should be negotiated, even if we
might prefer that of Associated States" he says.
Our role is to bring the two
Governments to the table, make sure all the options are on that table, and
leave them to negotiate the deal they believe is in the best interests of the
Islanders and Canadians alike.
There are clear advantages for both
countries in the proposed Association. As long as Canada is a northern nation
faced with an oppressive winter there will always be the need for a
psychological and physiological "break" in the winter months for an
escape "into the Sun". In almost all cases, Canadians must convert
their currency at a substantial loss when taking that winter vacation.
Considering that some 474,000 Canadians annually go to the Caribbean and spend
about 30 million dollars in the process, the loss to Canadians and the Canadian
economy is enormous. Association with these Islands would give Canadian
vacationers a "home away from home" in the near-Caribbean (closer to
Ottawa than Calgary) where their currency would be accepted at par. Canadians
would also acquire a retirement haven in the sun for those who would rather
live in the Islands than on the U.S. mainland. Association with the Turks &
Caicos would provide a sense of security and stability for Canadian investors.
They would quickly develop new hotels, inns, villas, condominiumsand retirement
communities in the Islands. Canadian money would go into Canadian banks and back
into the Canadian economy. Yet another advantage would be the dramatic increase
in Canadian export sales. The Islands currently import about 27 million dollars
a year, and over 20 million of that goes to the United States market. Canadian
suppliers sell the Turks & Caicos a paltry $30,000 a year. With
Association, almost all food stuffs, consumer goods and building materials
would come from Canada, and, as the economy grows, this figure would escalate.
The Islands have a strategic
position in a marketplace of many millions of people. The Turks & Caicos
would become not only a sales centre for Canadian business people supplying
products to the Caribbean, but an excellent trans shipment point for Canadian
goods sent into the area.
The Turks & Caicos are at that
stage of development where they offer Canadian entrepreneurs innumerable
opportunities in a wide range of businesses yet to be introduced to the
economy. While tourism, construction and fishing are currently the big
industries, a whole array of support businesses and services are needed to
supply the existing population (currently 14,000) and a steadily expanding
number of tourists (currently 40,000). It is significant that the largest hotel
development on the Islands other than the recently built "Club Med"
is a Canadian Sheraton project financed by Canadians.
You cannot go to the Turks &
Caicos without bumping into a Canadian, and it is reasonable to assume - given
the special interest in these Islands by Canadians - that they will soon be the
largest expatriate group in the Turks & Caicos. "Every Turks &
Caicos Islander knows a Canadian" is a common saying in the Islands.
Perhaps the problem is that every Canadian does not know a Turks & Caicos
The Islands would benefit from
Association as well. They would reach self-sufficiency almost immediately and
have no further need of a British Grant-in-Aid. The increased development wold
allow them to quickly rise to the level of their more developed Caribbean
neighbours. Association would offer expanded educational opportunities and a
higher standard of living for the people. With the direct import of Canadian
goods, the cost of living would go down (they now have to buy in Miami at U.S.
dollar rates) and exports would increase as Canada becomes their largest and
best market for seafood and future agricultural products coming from a place
which has perpetual sunshine. Canadian investment and expertise can take
advantage of the fact that these Islands are the best location for mariculture
in the entire Caribbean, (according to the Mariculture Institute of the
Smithsonian Institution) and Canadians become actively involved in
"farming" the sea. The current economy lacks light manufacturing,
assembly and processing industries. With Canadian initiative and capital
flowing into the Islands, these are beginning to follow, creating a large
number of potential jobs for Islanders.
Private business would thrive as
Islanders have access to Canadians looking for local business partners, and are
able to start their own businesses. Canadians retiring to the Islands would
bring professional and technical skills that can be passed along to the next
generation of Islanders.
Of course any grand project such as
Association is not without its problems and drawbacks. But these should be seen
as merely challenges to be overcome. If the political will exists on both
sides, and the United Kingdom agrees, there is no reason why the two parties
cannot have a unique, historical Association enacted into law by 1990. If they
do, it will open up a whole new window on the future for both nations.