The head of the Turks and Caicos Islands says the country remains open to the long-simmering notion of joining Canada, which is backed by one Canadian premier but dismissed by the federal government.
Turks and Caicos Premier Rufus Ewing led a delegation to Ottawa on Monday, meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other officials during a trip aimed at boosting ties between the countries.
However, the Caribbean nation – a collection of 40 mostly uninhabited islands and roughly 35,000 people – has been the subject of annexation talk, a possible 11th province or fourth territory, for nearly a century. The subject came up again on Monday.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall offered to welcome Turks and Caicos to his province. He later said the offer was partially tongue-in-cheek – “Saskatchewarm,” he coined it.
“I think we want to be constructive in Saskatchewan. If the Prime Minister’s looking for a way to make this happen and doesn’t want to go through the challenge of creating a province or territory, and Turks and Caicos want to make this happen, just, you know, we’d like a tropical island,” Mr. Wall said in an interview. Asked how that could legally work, he replied: “I don’t know, but if there was a hope we’d put a great group on it and find out.”
The notion of the island nation somehow joining Canada dates back at least as far as 1917 and has the backing of one Conservative backbencher, Peter Goldring. He bristles at the notion of annexation but favours boosted economic ties and, if both countries’ populations agree, a union of some kind.
The island leader’s trip was focused on trade, however. While not ruling out a place in Canada, he said it was not imminent.
“I’m not closing the door completely. It is not of my mandate to close the door … What I’ll say is on the radar is some kind of relationship. I can’t say what kind of relationship it will be,” Dr. Ewing, a surgeon by trade who now serves as his country’s premier and tourism minister, told reporters.
Canadians pining for tropical turf can take some solace, however – his trip was aimed at further greasing the wheels for Canadians to travel to and do business in Turks and Caicos, with Dr. Ewing saying he was seeking “relaxation of immigration issues” to the point of “seamless” borders.
The Conservative government, however, was firmly rejecting any suggestion of welcoming Turks and Caicos into the Canadian fold. “We’re not in the business of annexing islands in the Caribbean to be part of Canada. So that’s not something that we’re exploring. We’re not looking at any sort of formal association with the islands,” Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said.
That will come as little surprise to Mr. Wall. He has never been to Turks and Caicos, and Dr. Ewing has never been to Saskatchewan. Mr. Wall said he recalls hearing talk about the Turks and Caicos joining Canada as long as he’s been in politics.
“I think people smile when they talk about it,” he said, “and probably think it’ll never happen.”