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.
Here’s a great story about an amazing back country skiing experience.
New Provincial Government says NO Liquor Bans in Provincial Parks
From the Province of Alberta
Liquor ban quashed and rules relaxed
Liquor constraints will be relaxed in Alberta starting this May long weekend.
Premier Jason Kenney and Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon are pushing back against the excesses of the nanny state and the ‘War on Fun.’ Beginning this May long weekend, the liquor ban imposed on eight remaining provincial parks will be lifted. Moving forward, this government is committed to remove unnecessary red tape for festival organizers hosting events in municipalities and provincial parks. Relaxed liquor regulations will also extend to select provincial park day use area picnic sites later this summer.
“It’s time to lift prohibition-era restrictions around liquor consumption in Alberta and give responsible adults the freedom to act responsibly. This is part of our plan to take bold, decisive steps to reduce regulatory burden on business and not-for-profit festival organizations. We will take Alberta from being the most over-regulated to the freest economy in Canada.”
Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis regulations have been clarified to allow event organizers the flexibility to serve drinks where they see fit on festival grounds. Albertans will be able to responsibly enjoy the environment festival organizers wish to create. The same strategy is being applied to festivals and events in provincial parks by making approvals for liquor licences less restrictive.
This May long weekend, the liquor ban will be lifted at Aspen Beach, Miquelon Lake, Garner Lake, Dillberry Lake, Pigeon Lake, Whitney Lakes, Jarvis Bay and Wabamun provincial parks. There is no ban in place in Alberta Parks’ other provincial campgrounds.
Historically, there has been a liquor ban only over the May long weekend and only in select provincial parks.
“The vast majority of Albertans who enjoy our provincial parks do so responsibly. We should not punish the majority of responsible campers through liquor bans because of the past behaviour of a few bad characters.”
Rules and regulations around quiet times, excessive noise and appropriate behaviour continue to be in place and will be enforced as they are in Alberta Parks’ other campgrounds. Enforcement staff will shift their focus from enforcing the previous liquor ban to addressing negative behaviour. Liquor consumption in provincial campgrounds is restricted to adults and in campsites only.
Relaxing liquor constraints in municipalities and provincial parks is a commitment under government’s Red Tape Reduction strategy and a change to make the lives of Albertans better.
WATCH: ‘ExecuTrek’ takes business leaders on a tour of Canada’s largest military training event
CFB Wainwright- May 14, 2019
I was fortunate recently to take part in the Canadian Forces Liaison Council’s (CFLC) ‘ExecuTrek’ to see Exercise Maple Resolve in Wainwright, AB. There were about 80 of us; business leaders from the region, some of my fellow Honorary Colonels from across the west, and a group of International Studies students from Simon Fraser University in BC. We travelled in a Hercules aircraft from Edmonton International. From there, buses took us to see everything from battles to briefings.
The scale of Maple Resolve is quite extraordinary. Approximately 5,500 soldiers, 250 actors, contractors and consultants are on site at the Canadian Manoeuvre Training Centre at Wainwright, AB. Every asset in the field, from tank to LAV to every weapon, every soldier, has sensors attached. Every metric is captured on each and every asset; if a gun is only accurate at 300 metres, then a shot from 400 metres will fail, etc. etc. If wounded, a soldier is assessed a 3 hour window in which to get medical attention. If they don’t receive it, they become a casualty. Computer modelling allows every activity in the operation to be easily recreated and reviewed in real time.
Canadian Army soldiers serving with 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (CMBG) based at the Edmonton Garrison and in Shilo, Manitoba will train with elements of the Royal Canadian Air Force, the British Army, the French Army, the United States (U.S.) Army, U.S. National Guard, U.S. Army Reserve, and U.S. Marine Corps. There are more than 900 soldiers from the U.S. Armed Forces, about 150 soldiers from the British Army, and 40 soldiers from the French Army. There are a number of US Blackhawk helicopters from the Colorado National Guard being used for medical air support.
As the premier Canadian Army training event of the year, Exercise MAPLE RESOLVE 19 is a proving ground for soldiers in the contemporary operating environment.
During the exercise, soldiers will test their ability to integrate with Allies, non-governmental organizations, and host nation forces as they hone their skills within a realistic, complex and challenging environment. The exercise, designed and developed by the Canadian Manoeuvre Training Centre, provides Canadian Army soldiers, leaders, and other Canadian Armed Forces personnel a unique opportunity to enhance their combat readiness.
A wide variety of tactics, weapons, simulation technology, armoured fighting vehicles, and aircraft are used within a realistic, evolving and challenging operating environment. This exercise puts elements of our Canadian Armed Forces and our allies together in the most realistic setting possible short of an actual deployment.
CMTC’s mission is to design and deliver full-spectrum, immersive, joint and collective training events for the Canadian Armed Forces in a complex Contemporary Operating Environment in order to certify High-Readiness forces. In conjunction with the Royal Canadian Air Force, CMTC is a focal point in the Air Land Integration of the CAF. While major exercises are conducted within the Wainwright training area, support to exercises and training is exportable to any location, and CMTC frequently deploys in support of exercises around Canada and the world.
CFLC ExecuTrek program brings together business leaders to experience, firsthand, Reservists training for domestic and international response. The Canadian Forces Liaison Council (CFLC) mandate is to build diverse relationships that promote the value of reservists to Canadian communities and to improve understanding and support for the military.
“As Alberta Chair for Canadian Forces Liaison Council it was a privilege to host business leaders at our CFLC ExecTrek Maple Resolve, says Carolyn Patton.” Alberta Chair of Canadian Forces Liaison Council.
“It was an exceptional day to experience, firsthand, CAF members training for domestic and international support. Reservists are an incredible resource of talent and bring a wealth of experience, professionalism, and leadership to many organizations. Our guests truly got to see them in action, up close and personal. Our community, workplaces and country are the beneficiaries of their well respected training. Many thanks to 3rd Canadian Division and the staff and leadership at CMTC Wainwright. I mentioned to the business leaders, when you see a Reservist thank them for their service. Better yet, hire them!”
There is more information about Exercise Maple Resolve here.
For more information about the Canadian Forces Liaison Council, click here.
Here are links to several videos from Exercise.
Here are a few photos from the day.
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