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Annexing The Turks And Caicos: A Recipe For Corruption And Inequality

05/27/2014 02:29 EDT | Updated 04/07/2016 05:59 EDT
Chel Beeson via Getty Images

[This article originally appeaed on May 27, 2014. In light of the NDP possibly debating the idea of annexing the Turks and Caicos, we've brought the story back from our archives.]

The Harper government and the government of the Turks and Caicos say they're not interested in making the Caribbean island archipelago a part of Canada.

Too bad, right?

It's easy and fun to conjure up fantasies of a Canadian province where snowbirds can fly for the winter without worrying about U.S. limitations on their stay. Or to imagine spending next Christmas at the family cottage on a palm tree-lined beach.

But if Canada actually did make the Turks and Caicos a province (or part of another province, as has been suggested), this would probably never happen.

Why? The islands are simply too small.

The Turks and Caicos have a population of about 31,000 people, spread over a land area equivalent to the city of Toronto. We would not be gaining a Florida; we would be gaining a Boca Raton.

So of the millions of Canadians who would want to take advantage of our new tropical province, who would actually get to? Canada's wealthiest people, of course. The Turks and Caicos would become (if they aren't to an extent already) a playground for Canada's rich.

It would take about four neighbourhoods the size of Toronto's uber-rich Rosedale or Vancouver's ritzy Shaugnessy Heights to equal the population of the Turks and Caicos. As they flocked to the T&C, Canada's wealthy would overpower locals' buying power, essentially pricing islanders out of their own property market -- as well as Canadians of more modest means. That cottage on the beach wouldn't happen.

So forget the cottage. Condos, time-shares and high-rise hotels are the way to go, right?

Maybe. The Turks and Caicos are very receptive to property development, and in recent years the government has been encouraging the development of high-rise condos and hotels.

But could these islands handle the kind of influx that millions of winter-weary Canadians would mean? Building enough condos to satisfy even a fraction of the demand coming from Canadians would essentially wipe out everything that the Turks and Caicos are today.

Would residents be willing to turn their island, essentially, into another Miami Beach? In other words, would they be willing to turn this...

turks and caicos

Turtle Cove, Turks and Caicos

..into this?

miami beach

Miami Beach, Fla.

Even if they were, there wouldn't even be that much land on which to make it happen. And the transformation would be unbelievably environmentally unsustainable.

The T&C, like many small Caribbean islands, has precious few sources for fresh water. The island relies on the collection of rainwater and visitors are reminded to conserve. Building the islands up into a Canadian Miami Beach would mean importing potable water -- an expensive and impractical arrangement only the rich could afford.

And then there is the little problem of corruption. The Caribbean has long been known as a haven for tax evaders and those wishing to carry out financial transactions of dubious repute. Though the T&C islands don't top anyone's list of worst offenders, they have developed a reputation for corruption. The British government actually suspended self-rule in the colony in 2009, due to what it described as "systemic corruption."

The islanders finally got self-rule back in the fall of 2012, about the same time a former prime minister, Michael Misick, was arrested in Brazil in connection with corruption involving -- you guessed it -- real estate development.

Given the islands' reputation as both a tax haven and a centre of government corruption, maybe we should take a second look at the motives of people like Tory MP Peter Goldring, who has been pushing for annexation of the T&C for more than a decade on the argument that "Canada should have its own Hawaii."

Except of course Canada wouldn't be getting its own Hawaii, which has its own fresh water and room for a population of millions. We would be getting a tiny tropical archipelago, just barely big enough to house Canada's ultra-rich for the winter, while the rest of us continue to book flights to Fort Lauderdale.

It's time to put this fantasy to rest.

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