I once had political aspirations. It was the early 1980s. A federal election was brewing. At the same time a tiny chain of British islands in the Caribbean – the Turks and Caicos – had expressed interest in forming an association with Canada.
What a great idea: Canada’s own warm, winter destination. No more currency exchange swindles or fighting with hefty American tourists in a Cancun buffet line-up; just a happy bunch of Canucks soaking up the sun in our own polite corner of tropical paradise.
I would make political hay by running for office on this simple, single platform: promoting a union between Canada and the Turks and Caicos. It seemed a worthwhile diversion from Alberta’s traditional campaign issues: complaining about Quebec and letting the eastern bastards freeze in the dark.
Alas, I didn’t run and my nascent political ambitions, like the election, came and went. The Turks and Caicos dream faded into the blue yonder; our Prime Minister went back to exclaiming “fuddle duddle” in Parliament and the West returned to detesting the East over trivial issues such as who was going to get Alberta’s gazillion petro dollars. And instead of milking the federal treasury I ended up in law school and eventually Red Deer where I practiced law for a quarter century before concluding that life was too short to spend behind a desk – even if it were in the corner office.
But some people follow through on that early opportunity to chart a different course. Bruce Twa, a law school buddy, had lawyered through a few cold Alberta winters when a chance phone call offered him the prospect of practicing warm-winter law – in the Turks and Caicos. Bruce jumped at the offer. He has now been resident in the “TCIs” for over twenty-five years, transacting real estate deals on behalf of wealthy, sophisticated, discreet clients – when he’s not boating in the azure-coloured waters or snorkeling amongst parrotfish and turtles in the coral reef surrounding the islands.
I had promised (threatened?) to visit Bruce on numerous occasions over the years. Finally, arrangements were made. We’d see the tropical paradise Canada had snubbed and find out how my naïve 1980s political ambitions may have panned out.
My wife Florence and I learned even before clearing customs at Providenciales airport that the TCIs still maintain a quaint “small-island” feel. Bruce and his wife Darlene had graciously offered to host us during our stay but the border guard wouldn’t allow us entry. We didn’t have Bruce’s home address. The officer shook his head many times, threatening us with expulsion, before calling in his superior.
She looked at our paperwork, “Oh, you staying with Bruce? I just give him a call and get his house number.” She dialled and five minutes later we were standing on the curb, throwing our stuff into Bruce’s pickup.
We had only four days in the TCIs; a wise use of time was paramount. I wanted to evaluate whether Canada had blundered or done right in spurning the wishes of this British Protectorate. A quick but thorough analysis of the culture, economy and history was in order. I’d keep a tally of the positives and negatives. We began our research in a calculated, scientific fashion: so we went for beer and seafood, stuffing ourselves with fresh conch and island brew. The conch fritters were fantastic but the local beer (Turk’s Head) was awful. Score: one/one.
In the morning Bruce offered us the use of his beater truck so we could explore the island. I was a bit nervous about driving a standard stick shift in a strange country. “Don’t worry,” said Bruce, “Provo (that’s what the locals call Providenciales) is small, you really can’t get lost”. I felt better until I turned out of his driveway onto the main highway and realized everyone was driving on the wrong side of the road. I geared down and careened into the steamy Caribbean chaos.
Our methodical investigation continued… with lunch by the sea at Grace Bay – named by Condé Nast as one of the top beaches in the world. The fish was delectable and the beer (Presidente, imported from the Dominican Republic) palatable. The score was starting to favour the unionists.
That afternoon Bruce abandoned his clients to take us on an insider’s tour of his small island. The TCIs are a string of Cays (“Keys”) located at the eastern end of the Bahamas chain. The capital is Grand Turk, an island 100 kilometers from Providenciales. There are numerous small Cays – mostly uninhabited – between these two major islands. Due largely to the influence of Canadian ex-pats, Provo has evolved to become both the commercial and tourism center of the TCIs.
Bruce drove us through the high-rent district. If you are in the market for a multi-million dollar beachside home, Provo has plenty to offer. And if you change your mind and decide to sell, there is no tax payable on any gain in value. In fact there’s no tax of any kind in the TCIs: no tax on income or capital gains and no annual property tax on your house. But import duties and the cost of living are painfully high. Duty can be as much as 45% of a car’s value. And when you buy your dream home in paradise there is a one-time stamp fee payable equal to 9.75% of the purchase price. On a $1,000,000 property the fee is almost $100,000! Ouch, that’s a lot of postage.
These punishing import duties have led to some clever avoidance strategies. For example, the Turks and Caicos has many, many churches… all exempt from duty. Thus, even the humblest pastor usually drives a shiny new SUV.
We also toured the low-rent district, a stone’s throw from where the millionaire’s reside. The poor area, dubbed Five Cays, is where the immigrant workers – primarily Haitian – live.
The unmaintained road into Five Cays is almost impassable. This explains the abandoned vehicles we encountered – some converted into makeshift shelters; and many of the shanty houses here are a work-in-progress.
“We build piece-piece,” the locals explain. Bruce often does free legal work for the poor of Five Cays. He should be careful. This kind of attitude could bring an end to lawyer jokes.
There are a number of different, confusing categories of residency in the TCIs. We arrived on a temporary (30 day) permit. Bruce and his wife are permanent residents. The Haitians rely on work permit residency.
Then there are the “Belongers”. Only those persons born on the islands (with island ancestry) are true citizens, entitled to vote and hold office. Bruce and Darlene have been permanent residents of the TCIs for over two decades but can’t vote. They’ll never be Belongers.
This bizarre restriction on citizenship has led indirectly to a major challenge facing the Turks and Caicos: a legacy of nepotism and corruption. One afternoon Bruce took us snorkeling. We boated past the palatial home of ex-premier Michael Misick in the Leeward neighbourhood of Provo.
After building his mansion Mr. Misick leased it to the government. Then he moved in – as tenant – and collected $10,000 a month in rent from government coffers. The same day we cruised by the house, Interpol apprehended Mr. Misick in Rio de Janeiro on an international arrest warrant on charges of corruption and maladministration. Michael Misick apparently lacks neither cash nor gumption.
The tally was thickening. Would it really benefit Canada to get into bed with these types – even if the bed was a hammock swaying in a tropical breeze?
Time was running short. To judge matters objectively I needed more first-hand data… so I went bonefishing with “Bar”, a local guide. Wow! The fight presented by these fish is absurd. If you are a fly-fisherman put this adventure on your bucket-list. One moment I was admiring a juvenile nurse shark hovering in the shallow waters beneath Bar’s flat-bottomed boat and the next the line was spinning uncontrollably outward. It was ten minutes before I had that slippery little devil in my hands.
Motoring back to Provo we trolled past Bruce Willis’ house on Parrot Cay but the place looked deserted. Perhaps he was over at Demi Moore’s place having an ex-spouse, ex-pat spat.
I owed Bar $500 for the morning’s fishing (I told you the TCIs are expensive). We agreed to meet at a bank up the road – but as we pulled in it was being robbed. “What happened?” I asked the security guard next door. “Sketchy… it happen piece-piece,” he answered cryptically. Crime is not really an issue in the TCIs but, embarrassingly, the Provo Police Station had also recently been burgled. Thieves made off with guns, ammo and drugs held for pending court cases; adding insult to injury the police force’s new uniforms ended up at a local pawnshop.
Then there’s the “Potcakes” – Provo’s stray dogs. Packs of barking Potcakes roam the streets of this little island at night, stealing sleep from rich and poor alike. Unfortunately, the government funding for a much-needed sterilization program came unleashed amid allegations of… corruption.
Bruce’s dog Biana is a former Potcake, now fully civilized. During our boating afternoon Biana grew seasick but jumped overboard rather than vomit in her master’s vessel. Bruce cut the motor, dove in and brought his AWOL canine back aboard; then she threw up.
The final tally? It’s difficult to say. On our last night any negative karma evaporated when I stepped onto Bruce’s deck, into the sultry Provo darkness, and smelled the air. Have you ever encountered night-blooming jasmine? The fragrance is difficult to describe but should I ever again detect its beauty floating on a tropical evening breeze, the recollection will return like scented déjà vu.
Perhaps it’s best to let the Turks and Caicos dream drift away, unfulfilled. Like most things in life – politics included – things aren’t so simple as may first appear. Still, it sure would be nice to see the Maple Leaf fluttering over a tropical sunset.
About the author:
Gerry Feehan QC practised law in Red Deer for 27 years before starting his second life as a freelance travel writer and photographer. He says that, while being a lawyer is more remunerative than travel writing, it isn’t nearly as much fun. When not on the road, Gerry and his wife Florence live in Red Deer and Kimberley, BC. Todayville is proud to work with Gerry to re-publish some of his most compelling stories from his vast catalogue developed over more than a decade of travel.
THANKS to these great partners for making this series possible.
Read more of Gerry’s stories here.
Royal deal clears way for Harry, Meghan part-time Canada move: experts
VANCOUVER — A deal reached by Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, with Buckingham Palace helps clear the way for their planned part-time move to Canada, royal watchers said Saturday.
The palace announced that the duo will cease their duties as working royals this spring and will no longer use the titles “royal highness” or receive public funds for their work.
Keith Roy of the Monarchist League of Canada said the deal is exactly what Harry and Meghan asked for and green lights their plan to lead more private lives and split their time between Canada and the United Kingdom.
“It looks like they’re moving as expeditiously as possible in a way that’s respectful of taxpayers’ money, public sentiment and the Duke and Duchess’s desires to pursue an independent life,” he said.
Roy said he doesn’t expect the deal to impact the public cost of their security during their part-time residence in Canada.
“If you as a citizen or resident of Canada were being hounded and pursued by other members of the public or the press, I think you would expect that our government would provide you security so you could live as peaceful a life as possible,” he said.
He added that he does expect some of their security will be privately funded.
But royal historian Carolyn Harris said the deal might affect how their security is paid for. She noted that Harry’s cousins, Princess Eugenie and Princess Beatrice, also hold reduced royal roles.
“Beatrice and Eugenie originally had British state-funded security and that attracted a lot of criticism in the British press when they were travelling with security officers. Now their father, the Duke of York, privately pays for their security,” Harris said.
The royal statement said Buckingham Palace does not comment on the details of security arrangements and there are well-established independent processes to determine the need for publicly funded security.
Harris said it’s unlikely the details have been hammered out because it remains to be seen how much time the pair will spend in the United Kingdom, Canada and potentially the United States.
She pointed out the statement says Frogmore Cottage will remain Harry and Meghan’s family home in the United Kingdom, suggesting the couple isn’t contemplating a full-time move to Canada.
Since the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced they wanted to spend more time in North America, and the Queen confirmed Canada as their destination, speculation has run rampant that they will buy a home in British Columbia. Harry and Meghan vacationed on Vancouver Island over Christmas and Meghan recently visited a women’s charity in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
But Roy said Toronto was also a possibility, noting Meghan previously worked as an actress in the city on the TV show “Suits.”
He said Harry has private wealth passed down from his mother, Diana, and when the Queen dies, her wealth will pass down to his father, Prince Charles, and Charles’ wealth will pass down to his sons. Meghan also presumably has money from her acting career, he said.
Roy, who is also a real estate agent, said if they purchased a part-time residence in Vancouver they would not have to pay the city’s empty-homes tax if the house was occupied year-round by domestic staff.
Metro Vancouver also has a 20-per-cent foreign-buyers tax, which they would have to pay if they don’t pursue residency in Canada, Roy added.
He said they might not choose to obtain citizenship or permanent residency in Canada and might instead pursue working visas on the basis of their “special talents.”
“They’re both very capable people in their respective fields,” Roy said.
“Prince Harry would be an interesting addition to any company as a special talent because of his international experience and connections. He’s a man in his early 30s who has travelled the world, met with heads of state, presidents and prime ministers. He’s been a soldier and headed up the Invictus Games.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2020.
Laura Kane, The Canadian Press
Disrespectful that Horgan won’t meet during northern B.C. tour: hereditary chief
HOUSTON, B.C. — It’s disrespectful that Premier John Horgan won’t meet with five hereditary chiefs who oppose a natural gas pipeline while he is touring northern British Columbia, says the highest-ranking chief.
Chief Na’moks, who also goes by John Ridsdale, said the chiefs have asked the premier for a face-to-face discussion about the Coastal GasLink project.
Na’moks said he was frustrated Horgan didn’t meet with the chiefs on Friday, when the premier was in the area touring the LNG Canada project site in Kitimat and meeting with business leaders in Terrace.
“It really bothered me that he was not that far away and yet somehow could not take the time to come and speak with us,” Na’moks said Saturday.
The premier’s office said in a statement that upon receiving the meeting request on Thursday, it reached out to the hereditary chiefs to schedule a phone call.
“The aim of any discussion would be continued dialogue with a focus on de-escalation and on safety for all,” it said.
But Na’moks said only an in-person conversation will demonstrate respect for the chiefs, who assert jurisdiction over 22,000 square kilometres of unceded Wet’suwet’en territory.
“We want to show the respect back, too,” he said. “If you’re going to have decent communication with anybody, it’s best to be looking eye to eye.”
The chiefs have refused meetings with Coastal GasLink and instead called for discussions with provincial and federal government leaders, arguing the duty to consult is held by the Crown, not the project proponent.
Coastal GasLink has signed benefits agreements with all 20 elected band councils along the 670-kilometre pipeline route. But the hereditary chiefs argue band councils only have jurisdiction over reserve lands rather than unceded territories.
Crystal Smith, elected chief of the Haisla Nation, has said her band council signed an agreement because the project is creating jobs for Indigenous people and lifting communities from poverty.
Horgan said this week that the provincially permitted project will be built, and the rule of law must prevail.
The B.C. Supreme Court has granted an injunction against supporters of the hereditary chiefs who are have set up camps close to a pipeline work site near Smithers. It authorizes RCMP to arrest and remove anyone contravening the order.
However the RCMP has said it’s not enforcing the injunction to allow time for dialogue between the hereditary chiefs and Coastal GasLink.
Horgan was set to continue his northern B.C. tour on Saturday with an announcement about a new hospital in Fort St. James and by attending the men’s B.C. Winter Classic hockey game in the community.
Meanwhile, Adam Olsen, interim leader of B.C.’s Green party, was set to visit the camps set up by pipeline opponents on Saturday.
Federal Green MP Paul Manly also said he was traveling to Wet’suwet’en territory to meet with the hereditary chiefs.
“I am going to listen and to observe the situation on the ground,” he said in a statement.
“I have publicly stated my support for the hereditary chiefs and others who are engaged in non-violent action to protect Wet’suwet’en land. They are in a very challenging and volatile situation. They need to be heard.”
— By Laura Kane in Vancouver
This report was first published by The Canadian Press on Jan. 18, 2020.
The Canadian Press
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