Canada’s Lost Caribbean Provinces


By ‘Cimon


Originally published in Vol. 2, No. 2 (Autumn/Winter 2012), pp. 94-5.



IN 1884 A SENIOR Canadian statesman was asked whether the Dominion would “favorably entertain an application from Barbados to be admitted a member of their Confederation?” The statesman was Sir Francis Hincks, a pre-Confederation cabinet minister, co-prime minister from 1851-55, afterwards governor of Barbados and the Windward Islands (1855-62) and of British Guiana (1862-69), now, back in Montreal, serving as the Prime Minister’s West Indies advisor. The petitioners were the Barbados Agricultural Society and R.P. Elliott, attorney-general of Barbados.

Overtures from the West Indies to Canada, and particularly from Jamaica, were “the culmination of a long commercial relationship dating back to the early 18th century,” Brinsley Samaroo, a history professor at the University of the West Indies, Trinidad campus, has written. Commercial and religious groups in the Caribbean were keen, and “on the Canadian side there were many who were in favor of political union.” Kenneth Grant, a leading Trinidad plantation owner, wrote in 1911, “... these islands should be politically one with Canada forming one or more provinces of the great Dominion with their representatives at Ottawa, and all recognizing the [Canadian] Governor General as their chief.”

Also in 1911, T.B. Macaulay of the Sun Life Assurance Company, then headquartered in Montreal, formed the Canada-West Indian League. The Bahamas, he said, should “share in and add their importance to the Dominion.” The feeling was mutual, as the Bahamian Legislative Council recommended setting up a commission to negotiate Bahamian membership in the Canadian federation. The West India Committee Circular published letters in support of “negotiat[ing] with Canada for their admission into the Dominion, by incorporation with one or other of the Maritime Provinces.”

Sir Robert Borden in 1916 received an appeal from Macaulay the West Indies would “add over one hundred thousand square miles of rich tropical territory to our temperate and frigid zones” while their population “with free trade would be enormous consumers of Canadian products.” Borden was intrigued, writing to Sir George Perley, Canada’s high commissioner to the United Kingdom, that union would diversify the economy, broaden Canadians’ minds, and enhance Canada’s prestige and seriousness.

The idea did not reach fruition owing to the objection that the British North America Act, as written, did not allow for federation with another region. Others protested that Canada would have to bear additional defence costs in the Caribbean sea. Yet the ties have remained close and there have been repeated attempts involving the Bahamas, Barbados, and the Turks & Caicos Islands, to revive the idea ever since.

The last Canadian legislative initiative was sponsored by Max Saltsman, an NDP Member of Parliament, in 1974, to invite the Turks & Caicos to federate with Canada. The Islands responded that they could become “an overseas Maritime province or territory of Canada.” David Kilgour, who sat as both a Liberal and Conservative MP, wrote in 2001: “Unfortunately, in the view of many Caribbean-loving Canadians today, the proposal was ultimately rejected.” In 2003, with 60% of islanders in favour, Turks & Caicos renewed its request. Nova Scotia’s Legislature voted unanimously in 2004 to invite the islands to join the province.

The idea of closer ties leading to union with Canada remains compelling. The Turks & Caicos, with a population of 39,000, today have a governor appointed by London. In the face of growing crime and corruption, in 2011 two RCMP officers were named commissioner and deputy commissioner of the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force, proof of “Canada’s commitment to addressing security challenges in our neighbourhood,” said trade minister Peter Kent. Interest could be reinvigorated by a signal from business and civic leaders within the Islands.

Canada has admitted new provinces before, from the creation of Manitoba (1870) to the entry of Newfoundland (1949), and created a new territory, Nunavut (1999). Amending the Constitution requires agreement from seven provinces representing at least 50% of the population — surely not insuperable given the opportunities that a Caribbean province would present.

One objection today might be that Caribbean entry points to Canada might then be deluged with asylum-seekers from neighbouring islands. This argument is curious because it implies that Canada is incapable of protecting its borders. If accurate, would it not already be the case? There are reforms underway to discourage false claimants. Border security would presumably be addressed through legislation and under the terms, including new constitutional provisions, of any union.

However, the expansion of Canada into the Caribbean would more fundamentally represent a shift in Canada’s perception of itself. The self-deprecating voice of Little Canada would aver that adding new provinces would be tantamount to neo-colonialism and contrary to the Canadian way, so called.

We might begin with a refresher on the growth of Canada in the nineteenth century — from the first four provinces to expansion to the Pacific through the subvention of BC, the incorporation of the Arctic Archipelago, and the building of the national railroad. Why should the number of provinces be frozen at ten or the territories at three, with the 1949 boundaries fixed in perpetuity? Viewed in this context, growth is at the heart of the Canadian experience.

One could at least pursue with vigour stronger commercial ties with Caribbean states, perhaps evolving into a customs and labour union and other forms of cooperation. Certainly for states and territories in the Caribbean, closer integration offers multifaceted opportunities, including perhaps for the first time a stronger foundation for genuine development. Integration would, in the end, have to benefit both parties. Perhaps twenty-first century overtures of the kind made by the Barbados Agricultural Society in the 1880s would be warmly received. Vision is required if we are to be Fathers of Confederation once again.

Originally published in Vol. 2, No. 2 (Autumn/Winter 2012), pp. 94-5.

Cimon was, at the time of writing, a staff member somewhere in the Harper Government.


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  • Gerard Van Kessel on

    Let me expand on the issue of asylum seekers. Canada’s geographic location – oceans on three sides and the U.S. on the other – is a major reason that the number of asylum seekers and illegals is, at most times, modest compared to more geographically exposed countries. The EU is the obvious example. Expanding Canada to include Caribbean states would end this isolation. It would largely negate the impact of the imposition of visitor visas on such Caribbean countries as Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago in the late 1990s. Access to the Canadian Caribbean would be far easier than to The airports at Toronto and Montreal. A problem faced by the Turks and Caicos of illegal Haitians and Dominicans would become Canada’s problem. The far greater attractiveness of Canada than Of the Turks and Caicos would see far greater numbers of asylum seekers and illegals.

    The may be good reasons to support Canada’s expansion into the Caribbean but the reality of the asylum seeker issue as it would play out is a reason to oppose such an initiative.

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