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Keeping Track - Why Canada should adopt the Turks and Caicos

Going for the slightly off-beat in this month's column.

What would you say to Canada, the Caribbean nation?

Since prime minister Robert Borden first brought it up in 1917, the idea of Canada absorbing the British island chain of Turks and Caicos has periodically surfaced in Canadian discourse. As we look out at our short, cold days and ponder whether our passports are up to date for a trip to Florida, perhaps it is, once again, time to consider offering the Caribbean nation Canadian citizenship.

The idea is not new, and since Borden's proposal nearly a century ago, both Canada and the Turks and Caicos have brought up the notion periodically over the years. The islands are not independent now, being still under the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom, and so changing allegiance to a fellow Commonwealth member that would pay more attention to it would not likely be a major problem.

Geographically, the Turks and Caicos are well positioned. They are just north of Hispaniola, the island that Haiti and the Dominican Republic share, and just east of Cuba. Canada would have an international presence in a part of the world where we barely exist today, able to assist in much more real terms with disasters such as last month's earthquake in Haiti.

The population of Turks and Caicos is around 23,000 people. That's about the same size as the University of Guelph. For providing 23,000 people access to universal health care and a seat in Parliament, what could we get?

We would expand our 202,080 kilometres of cold, northern coastline by 389 km of tropical beaches, and expand our 9,984,670 square km country by 948 square km, an increase of nearly one per cent of one per cent. While dramatic, that is not the reason.

Giving Canadians a domestic location in the Caribbean Sea would have major economic benefits for Canada, as well as the tourism-dependent Turks and Caicos. It is one of many territories in the world still governed by the United Kingdom, who wouldn't miss it. As a part of Canada, it would be treated as a special place, not as one in a litany of overseas possessions; the Turks and Caicos would be the only inhabited Canadian territory not contiguous to the rest of modern Canada.

Thousands of Canadians travel to the southern United States and the Caribbean every winter to get away from our short days and long snow squalls, many staying down there for the entire winter. It all results in a lot of money directly leaving our economy with little more than a collective sun tan to show for it. If a substantial portion of those Canadians wintered in Turks and Caicos, the island would benefit from the massive amount of investment and all Canadians would benefit from keeping our expenditures within our borders and from having a warm place to go on a domestic flight. Even scuba divers could rejoice at having a place to go deep in Canada in February that is not cold.

We are a people known for cottaging and travelling for recreation. Many Canadians would not think twice about taking the five-hour flight from Toronto to Vancouver to see friends. The Turks and Caicos, on the other hand, can be reached from Toronto's Pearson airport in under four hours.

Not to say that there would be no drawbacks. Turks and Caicos are right in the path of more hurricanes than you or I care to think about, for one thing. Moreover, it would risk casting Canada to the world as a neocolonial power. However, while none of us will admit it, Canada's history is rich in annexations and expansion, and so adopting a friendly little territory just south of the Tropic of Cancer would not be completely out of character for a country that peacefully absorbed a neighbour as recently as 1949.

Canada is, fundamentally, a country that cares about others. How could we go wrong offering a little piece of Canada to the Caribbean community?

Besides, were Canada to absorb the Turks and Caicos, we would need to change our national motto. We would be Canada, A Mari usque ad Mare usque ad Mare usque ad Mare. It would be worth it just for that.

Posted at 20:08 on February 09, 2010

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