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.
Official Installation Ceremony for RDC President Dr. Peter Nunoda
From Red Deer College Communications
Red Deer College celebrates new President during Installation Ceremony
Festivities included new traditions and a look towards institution’s future as a university
It was a special day for Dr. Peter Nunoda, Red Deer College’s new President. While he began his tenure in September, Dr. Nunoda was officially installed as RDC’s 11th President during a ceremony Tuesday, November 12.
“I am humbled to receive the warm welcome from the College community and our external partners that I have enjoyed today, as well as during other occasions in the brief time I’ve lived in central Alberta,” says Dr. Nunoda.
Red Deer College was a buzz with special moments during the Installation Ceremony as the College community, government representatives, dignitaries and community members from across central Alberta welcomed formally Dr. Nunoda.
Indigenous drumming and singing provided entertainment for the audience, as well as signifying RDC’s continued commitment to collaborating with Indigenous communities in the spirit of reconciliation. In recognition of Dr. Nunoda’s proud Japanese Canadian heritage, members of the Students’ Association honoured him with a loaned piece from the College’s permanent art collection. The students presented a colour woodblock on silk by famed Japanese artist Kunisada that dates from 1848-58. This art will be displayed by Dr. Nunoda in his office during his term.
A new tradition for Red Deer College was introduced as Dr. Nunoda took an Oath of Office led by Her Honour, the Honourable Lois E. Mitchell, CM, AOE, LLD, Lieutenant Governor of Alberta. Dr. Nunoda also received a new Presidential stole that he will wear as part of his academic regalia at future Convocation Ceremonies and other important events.
“On behalf of my colleagues on the Board of Governors, I was honoured to host today’s Installation Ceremony as we welcome Dr. Nunoda into our College community at this momentous point in our institution’s history,” says Guy Pelletier, Chair of RDC’s Board of Governors. “Dr. Nunoda has already identified a strong path for where he will lead this institution into the future as a university, and we are very excited to collaborate with him and our community to realize this bold transformation that has been decades in the making.”
Dr. Nunoda provided the audience with a glimpse of his leadership and the future he envisions for Red Deer University during today’s ceremony. This vision includes continuing to serve learners as a polytechnic university offering more diverse programs. As a university, this includes degrees, apprenticeships and the full breadth of other credentials that RDC currently offers. Additionally, existing and future facilities on RDC’s vibrant campuses will provide opportunities for community collaboration and a culture of engagement. Recognizing Alberta’s current economic conditions, Dr. Nunoda identified the need for a strong business model that contributes to the institution’s economic and environmental sustainability.
While honouring RDC’s past successes and strong reputation, Dr. Nunoda also noted it will be important to highlight the value of practical education and signature learning experiences that students will receive from Red Deer University, so that employers realize the benefit of the skills and knowledge that work-ready graduates will provide to the local and global economy.
“We have an exciting future ahead as Red Deer University, continuing to grow practical learning opportunities for our students, and creating stronger connections with individuals and organizations in our region,” says Dr. Nunoda. “Through innovative solutions, creative problem solving and an energetic touch of imagination, we will reach our goals and position Red Deer University as the first choice for post-secondary education.”
Dr. Nunoda identified a strong desire to work with government partners to allow the institution to begin calling itself Red Deer University starting in September 2020, citing the institution’s readiness and work that is currently underway. This work includes program development for three new degrees: Bachelor of Education, Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Business Administration, with students anticipated to begin classes as early as September 2021, pending government approval.
Learn more about RDC’s 11th President, Dr. Peter Nunoda, by visiting rdc.ab.ca/president
Provincial Opposition: Why did Kenney’s closest advisor stay at London hotels four times in the last 6 months?
From Alberta’s NDP Caucus
TOP KENNEY AIDE BILLED ALBERTA TAXPAYERS FOR THOUSANDS IN FLIGHTS, MEALS AND FIVE-STAR HOTELS IN THE UNITED KINGDOM
Premier Jason Kenney’s closest adviser has billed Alberta taxpayers for more than $45,000 worth of expenses, including thousands of dollars’ worth of flights, meals and stays in London’s fanciest hotels.
David Knight-Legg, a Yale and Oxford-educated international banker currently earning $195,000 a year as the premier’s Principal Advisor, has expensed three times more than any other member of the Premier’s staff, including the Chief of Staff. Knight-Legg’s expenses after six months are more than Rachel Notley’s Principal Secretary expensed over four years.
Among these expenses are $18,680.77 for four trips to London, each three to four days long, where he stayed either at the five-star Chilworth London Paddington Hotel, or in the upscale Soho neighbourhood at the historic Kettner’s hotel, “home to aristocrats since 1867”, which was opened by Napoleon III’s chef and features an art-nouveau champagne bar. Knight-Legg also billed Alberta taxpayers for Ubers, train rides and 43 meals in Great Britain’s capital.
“What on Earth could this close adviser of the Premier be doing in London?” asked Heather Sweet, Official Opposition Critic for Democracy and Ethics and MLA for Edmonton-Manning. “While the Premier is hiking taxes, cutting funding for schools and hospitals, disbanding firefighting teams and throwing Albertans off the senior’s drug plan amid claims the province is broke, David Knight-Legg was living a life of luxury in London at Alberta taxpayer’s expense.
“We have seen no substantive announcements about policy or collaboration with the United Kingdom. In fact, we can’t find a record of a member of the Kenney cabinet going to London or referencing the trade relationship with the country as a whole. Albertans paid for four luxurious trips in six months. The Premier must immediately release the full, detailed itineraries of each of David Knight-Legg’s trips. Otherwise Albertans have no way of knowing if this former international banker was conducting his own business and making the taxpayer pick up the bill,” Sweet said.
Although the bulk of Knight-Legg’s banking career has been in China and the Pacific Rim, he has yet to travel west of Vancouver on government business. There’s also no evidence that any officials from Economic Development and Trade accompanied Knight-Legg on his trips to London.
Last week, Premier Kenney drew widespread criticism for spending Alberta taxpayers’ money on private aircraft to carry himself, several other conservative premiers and their wives from a pancake party photo-op in Calgary to a meeting in Saskatoon.
“Albertans have a right to know what the purpose of these over-the-top extravagant trips was, and what return – if any – they got for them,” Sweet said. “The premier must apologize for the ongoing pattern of entitlement and frivolous spending of Albertans’ tax dollars in his office.”
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