Thursday, May 14, 2009

The province of Turks and Caicos?

This is from the March 2nd, 2009 issue of The Ottawa Citizen. I've been hearing about this proposal since I was in high school. We want it, they seem to want it... why does it never bloody happen? Nova Scotia's legislature even passed a vote, in 2004, to let the Turks and Caicos join that province if they ever join Confederation, sidestepping the unanimity requirement for new provinces in the Constitution (besides, with a population of only 30,000, it's unlikely the Turks and Caicos could actually form a viable province on their own).

Read on...
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The province of Turks and Caicos?

MP champions special ties with Caribbean nation to boost trade, ability to deliver aid

By Donna Jacobs, Citizen Special
March 2, 2009


Suppose Canada built itself a deep-water port in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean.

Suppose that port opened up a new market for Canadian goods -- more than 120 million people live in the Caribbean and nearby Central and South America.

Suppose Canada enhanced the port with a regional free trade zone.

Suppose Canadian ships carried northward duty-free tropical produce and products from the Caribbean and Latin America. In some locations, food rots for lack of shipping and export markets.

Suppose these ships returned with Canadian durable goods -- now scarce on southern shelves.

Suppose the port, unaffordable for Caribbean countries, boosted their standard of living and bolstered hemispheric security.

Suppose the port doubled as a Canadian military operations base for countries wanting help to patrol their waters and to interdict the Caribbean's robust trade in smuggled arms, drugs and people.

Suppose Canada used the port as an aid base when hurricanes strike.

Suppose Canada fills a vacuum of influence where China, Cuba and -- bolstered by Iran -- Venezuela have stepped in with medical aid, cheap petroleum, schools and factory construction.

Suppose Canada did all this with its usual low-key, good-cop approach to world politics and regional strife, drawing on the goodwill that comes from its 100-year trading relationship in the Caribbean. (Canada's direct investment holdings in the Caribbean-Latin American market in 2007 totalled $87.2 billion.)

For years, Edmonton East Conservative MP Peter Goldring has been campaigning for this all-purpose "Canadian platform" on South Caicos Island. The Turks and Caicos lie north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

In the 1970s, Turks and Caicos knocked on Canada's front door.

The English-speaking nation asked to become Canada's 11th province. It was ultimately turned down. Strange in today's multicultural Canada, says Mr. Goldring, but concerns over racial and cultural integration figured in the decision.

In the late 1980s, with some 90 per cent of their population in favour, Turks and Caicos asked again for a "special relationship" with Canada. In 2003, with 60 per cent in favour, Turks and Caicos renewed its request.

The Turks and Caicos -- comprised of two groups of islands -- are independent, but remain a British overseas territory.

For many Canadians -- and everyone else -- Caribbean life is a beach holiday. But, says Mr. Goldring quietly, "the Caribbean can get away on itself, if you do not give it care and attention."

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Indeed, he's taken a lot of kidding for championing the Turks and Caicos -- similar to Edmonton in distance from Ottawa -- as a Canadian territory.

"I'm concerned that the idea is being taken too lightly," he says. "People find a lot of humour in it."

Skeptics are concerned over the prospect of massive migration from the Caribbean or the risk that winter-weary Canadians would overwhelm the islands. Mr. Goldring says both concerns can be handled -- think of Hawaii and the U.S. or of Quebec's provincially-tailored immigration standards.

And the port proposal is not merely a matter for Turks and Caicos. Ambassadors to Canada from Barbados and Cuba, and politicians in Dominica and St. Lucia, have championed more deep-water trade with Halifax which, he says, after touring the Halifax port, has "lots of capacity."

Historically, he adds, two Canadian ships used to ply between the islands. And though Canada's presence has diminished, it staged its Haiti-bound UN troops in 2004 through Turks and Caicos.

"We could have an aid program, a DART unit, an emergency aid unit. I visited Granada after Hurricane Ivan came through and it was very evident we didn't have the capacity to help."

He's visited some 10 Caribbean countries over the years. In Haiti, he toured the Montreal-based Gildan Activewear plant, which pays about 5,000 people double the minimum wage to produce clothing.

In a post-9/11 world, now contracting with global recession, he says, Canada needs to realign its trading routes and methods.

"Too much attention has been focused on the Asian Giant," he says. "And it's getting harder to get products into the U.S. We should be looking at other alternatives."

Mr. Goldring's focus dovetails with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's policy, reinvigorated with last week's announcement of more Canadian aid, more trade and further political co-operation with the Caribbean and Latin America.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon just returned from Brazil. Peter Kent, minister of state of Foreign Affairs for the Americas, just returned from Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago, host of the Summit of the Americas in April.

Beyond Canada's burgeoning trade in the region, the Caribbean has strategic importance, Mr. Goldring says: "You have to be aware of what potentially could go wrong if places like Venezuela and Cuba were forced to align themselves with Communist China.

"Canada gives aid money to China (CIDA gave $37.2 million to Chinese organizations in 2008) and China turns around and builds the schools and hospitals and sports stadia -- with their name on it -- in the Caribbean," he says. "So we have to shake our head, because that is hugely influential."

In recent years, China built a duty-free zone in St. Lucia. (The island turned to Taiwan for help in 2007, angering China and halting its hospital construction.) And in Guyana, China built the headquarters of CARICOM, the Caribbean common market, along with a convention centre.

Canada's friendship with Cuba also carries strategic benefit. While Canada "walks a line with the U.S.," which has a trade embargo on the island, the U.S. appreciates Canada "as a stabilizing element," says Mr. Goldring

"When I visited Cuba two years ago, the Cuban people said, in no uncertain terms, that they believe they're still at war with the U.S. while Canadians are very, very well-liked."

As for the military, he says the Canadian Forces sends a frigate to the Caribbean for annual military manoeuvres, making a regional base there useful.

Mr. Goldring is right: Canada does need to take the Caribbean more seriously.

1 comment:

Maple Town said...

I agree that the Turks and Caicos islands should be part of Canada. Think about the opportunities Canada would benefit and how much recourse to a close bonded free trade system we would invest in. The islands would also do good in tourism and real estate since the islands are sparsely populated. And that we would have access to trade with other nearby countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean.