Turks and Caicos premier 'not closing the door' on Canadians' Caribbean dreams
The premier of the Turks and Caicos says he’s “not closing the door completely” on the idea of his island nation becoming Canada’s 11th province, but says such a move would only happen if it is the will of his country’s residents.
Premier Rufus Ewing was on Parliament Hill Monday to meet Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other MPs to discuss economic development and trade issues, as well as, of course, tourism.
But Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was quick to dispel the possibility of the island nation becoming a part of Canada.
“The premier who’s here isn’t asking to become the 11th province and we’re not in the business of annexing islands in the Caribbean to be part of Canada,” he said. “So that’s not something that we’re exploring. We’re not looking at any sort of formal association with the islands.”
Ewing was scheduled to travel to Toronto later Monday to open a new tourism office in the city.
During a lively press conference on Parliament Hill Monday afternoon, Ewing was coy when answering repeated questions about whether his country could one day be Canada’s first province in the Caribbean.
“Our first step toward any kind of relationship should be one whereby we can discuss and discover areas of mutual interest between both countries that both countries’ Parliaments and people are satisfied with, watch that relationship grow and nurture as we go through a period of courtship, and see where it takes us,” Ewing said.
“I cannot state beyond that right now.”
Asked to clarify his use of the word “courtship,” Ewing replied that he was using an analogy.
“Because the question people always ask is whether or not we’re going to get married, whether you’re going to annex,” Ewing said. “But there’s no marriage without some kind of relationship.”
Asked if his comments mean he is closing the door on the idea of Canada annexing his nation of 35,000 residents, Ewing replied: “I’m not closing the door completely. It’s not my mandate to close the door.”
However, he noted, his mandate is to see the Turks and Caicos “have sustainable economic growth and development and development of our people with a free will and a strong democracy.”
He looks to Canada as “a big brother or big sister” to help his country with economic growth and development in all sectors, from financial services to trade to education.
Included in that is the “relaxation” of immigration issues, to “almost have seamless borders,” he said.
He said he would not impose his personal views on the matter on his country’s residents. When asked how they feel about annexation, he said they don’t yet have a position on the issue “because they have not been asked a question.”
While the idea of annexing the Turks and Caicos dates back nearly 100 years to then-prime minister Robert Borden, attempts to kick-start the process have never gone very far.
The idea’s most recent champion is Conservative MP Peter Goldring, who has vowed to keep advocating for the annexation of the Caribbean archipelago.
"Canada really needs a Hawaii," Goldring told The Canadian Press from Ukraine, where he was observing Sunday’s elections.
"The United States has a Hawaii. Why can't Canada have a Hawaii?"
Not only would officials in both Canada and the Turks and Caicos have to be on board, the islands remain an autonomous British Overseas Territory, meaning British officials would have to be willing to let them go.
Ewing noted that Canada already has a “significant influence” in the country, as most major banks are Canadian-owned, as is the power company, a main hospital, most law firms, most financial services firms and most hotels and resorts.
“Those are informal relationships driven by private-sector entities,” Ewing said. “What I’m looking for is a more formal relationship with the Canadian government for a strategic approach whereby we can both see mutual benefits to both countries.”
Earlier Monday, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall tweeted that if the prime minister does not want to add another province or territory, the Turks and Caicos “can join Canada as a part of Sask.”
Asked whether he considered joining Canada through a provincial rather than federal deal, Ewing told reporters he’s never considered either option.
“I’ve never been to Saskatchewan,” he said with a smile, adding that he has visited the Maritimes, Ontario and British Columbia.
“They’re all lovely provinces, and so I’d love to have a relationship with all the provinces,” he said. “But whether or not it’s annexation is another question I can’t answer.”