The chain of small islands south of the Bahamas is a British Overseas Territory of about 36,000 people engaged in offshore banking, tourism, fishing and small-scale agriculture. Residents enjoy a modest but decent standard of living on average, and the weather is spectacular.
A recent corruption investigation led the British cabinet to revoke TCI's quasi-independence and directly administer the territory through the governor.
This is leading to charges of renewed colonization from the accused ministers and widespread relief from many residents.
But the biggest unexpected consequence may be another round of examination of Canadian union with this small island chain.
First, a little history.
The idea of annexing Turks and Caicos goes back at least to Robert Borden, who raised the idea at Imperial Conference only to be rebuffed by the mercurial David Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister.
An NDP MP revived the idea in the early 1970s and its been brought forward as a private-members bill in every decade since.
The closest this idea came to reality was the mid-1980s.
The politics of TCI partially revolves around the relationship with Britain, with one party pressing for distance and the other less so. The independence party won office in 1978 and prepared the ground to leave the British realm. An election was held in 1982 that was a virtual referendum on independence, but the pro-independence government was defeated. The new anti-independence regime cast about for how to structure the territory in the aftermath and sent a serious offer to Canada to discuss joining.
The offer could not have come at a less convenient time for Canada, as the free-trade agreement was dominating the time of those who might have entertained such a notion. Instead, the idea was politely ignored. The same cool reaction has been Ottawa's stance since.
The corruption scandal and resulting pause provides Turks and Caicos Islanders a chance to take their history in a dramtic new direction. There is widespread public belief that the status quo is not working and a desire for radical change.
Joining Canada would certainly be a change.
The benefits for TCI residents would be immediate, immense and positive. Transfer payments to this new "have-not" province would boost services from health to education to roads. Defense would not be placed on the narrow tax base of TCI alone (a major factor in its lingering status as a British Overseas Territory.) Local elites would have the control of provincial autonomy with influence in a larger national pool.
But the upside for Canadians takes more unpacking.
Obviously, Canadians are immediately attracted to the dream of a warm Canadian province to visit in the winter. Same currency. No customs. Retirement in a warm place with quality service under the Canada Health Act. A post-911 United States makes it difficult for snowbirds to stay longer than six months resident. Language barriers make many Latin American destinations hard to settle in.
TCI could offer a safe, predictable retirement and vacation destination for Canadians. It is also one that keeps snowbird dollars in our national economy.
But Turks and Caicos would be an uneasy bedfellow for Canadians in some ways. Its residents are typically more socially conservative than the Canadian consensus, for instance firmly against gay marriage or pornography. It would admit another unilingual Anglophone province, something that may raise misgivings in Quebec.
“Immigration” was cited in the past as a potential problem. There is the potential for wide-spread internal movement of these 36,000 new Canadians to the 10 original provinces in search of economic opportunity. While it’s something to monitor, the increased services supported by transfer payments would moderate this trend, as might a winter spent in Winnipeg.
1979 the idea was floated, latest try was from Member of Parliament for Edmonton East, Peter Goldring, in 2004
www.petergoldring.com/media/S...20Approved.pdf (external - login to view)