Make Cuba the newest Canadian province? Rivers is clearly looking for a diplomatic posting.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

November 18th, 2016



I once worked at Toronto airport washing recycled Trans Canada planes for one of those instant airlines, sprung up to fly cows to Cuba, the airline’s only customer. The Cuban missile crisis was over but there was pretty much of a hemispheric embargo in effect against that small island nation. And while the US administration would have liked Canada to fall into line, Conservative leader John Diefenbaker would not be dictated to.

Canada and Cuba have one of the oldest friendships in the Western Hemisphere. More recently Stephen Harper played a key role in opening the way for Obama to break the ice, and become the first US president after the revolution to visit Cuba. But the politician who mostly comes to mind when the talk turns to Cuba was Justin Trudeau’s late father, Pierre.


Margaret Trudeau, Fidel Castro and former Prime Minister of Canada Pierre Trudeau. Castro is showing the Trudeau’s a photo album.

So nobody should be surprised that Justin finally paid a visit to Cuba, though he didn’t get to see his father’s old pal, Fidel. Over a million Canadians visit Cuban annually, and the official purpose of his trip was to expand trade, get some of those tourist dollars back, before the US beats us to it.

Though beating us to it won’t happen if president-elect Trump was serious about his threat to re-impose a blockade. Trump had been keen to build a casino there in the 1990’s but business is business and politics is… So he found religion and the bitter Cuban ex-pats voted in large enough numbers to give him Florida and the path to the presidency.

But the real Cubans weren’t applauding; they conducted military drills, just in case. Nobody expects Trump to invade, but if normalization is ended, Cuba might reconsider Mr. Putin’s offer to re-open a Russian military base there. And that would be so “deja vu” – unless the much anticipated Putin-Trump bromance turns out to be genuine love. Then Cuba will be pretty much on its own, except for a few good friends, like Canada.

When Trump threatened to tear up NAFTA, Canada was quick to call his bluff, offering to put our money on the table and deal. And our guys are pretty good at the game, knowing when to walk away, as we did to close that CETA deal (Canada-EU Trade Agreement) recently. We can visualize the NAFTA negotiations set in one of Trumps’ Vegas casinos – I’ll see your softwood lumber and raise you US steel.

Snow-birding makes a big dent in the Canadian economy, draining foreign exchange and slowing down domestic economic growth. But what if our Canadian sun-worshippers could travel to some hot spot which was part of the economy, so the money would stay in the country?

What if some banana island came out of the blue sea and knocked on our door looking to participate in our style of democracy?

Almost a century ago PM Robert Borden embraced annexing the Turks and Caicos (T&C) islands as a part of Canada. And the issue has popped up regularly over the years, mostly by the government of that British colony. The last time this happened a pale Mr Harper was so blanched by the prospect he told them to go home, they’d been in the sun too long. Canada wasn’t interested – we like to freeze in the winter. Really? Over 200,000 people travel to that island paradise, that’s almost as many as stop by to see the Yukon. Why wouldn’t we want to have those dollars in Canada and those 40 islands as our 11th province?


Part of the Turks and Caicos that Rivers would like to see made part of Canada.

I mean, it’s the ‘rage’ once again, to build empires and grab land. Take Crimea, which Russia did. And I’d be surprised if Mr. Putin has finished his Christmas shopping – watch out for those men in furry hats, bikinis and sun burns – this time they’re the little red men.

Once we’ve snagged the Turks and Caicos, there are bigger fish for us to hook in the Caribbean. I mean what about Cuba?

Over a million Canadians fly there every year, dwarfing little ole’ Turks and Caicos. With access to their doctors, twice as many per capita as Canada, waiting lists for operations would disappear. And maybe you could schedule that operation along with recuperation time in Havana. Tell that to your boss when requesting sick leave.

Canada has some strong linkages to Cuba’s economy, including some of the biggest mining companies there. But we’ve hardly started. And that is why the PM is there – trade and investment. Yes and of course the PM is expected to scold them on human rights abuses – but in this crazy messed up world…

As a Canadian province, Cuba would be entitled to free trade with the US and Mexico under NAFTA, providing Trump doesn’t tear it up. Bringing almost twelve million Spanish speakers into confederation would provide a nice linguistic balance to our multi-cultural nation, complementing Quebec’s 8 million francophones. And if anyone could get the US to close it’s naval base at Guantanamo, that’d be us.

So if that wasn’t what our PM was doing in Cuba – seducing Raul to throw his lot in with us – well it would be a shame. But then, one can always dream.

Rivers-direct-into-camera1-173x300Ray Rivers is an economist and author who writes weekly on federal and provincial issues, applying his 25 years of involvement with federal and provincial ministries.  Rivers’ involvement in city matters led to his appointment as founding chair of Burlington’s Sustainable Development Committee.  He was also a candidate in a past provincial election.     Tweet @rayzrivers


Background links:

Harper and Cuba –  Canada-Cuba –   Cuban History –  Trudeau/Castro

Cuba and Canada –  How Trump Won Florida –  Trump on Cuba –  Turks And Caicos

Can/US/CubaTrudeau in Cubagetting new - yellow

Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

5 comments to Make Cuba the newest Canadian province? Rivers is clearly looking for a diplomatic posting.

  • Steve

    What’s wrong with North Korea? Oh, that’s right, silly me. The weather.

  • Bill Boyd

    Like Eldron, I dissent, Ray. And Smile? Yeah, I guess so, although I hope your column does not reach too many down in Cuba. You might know that certain types in the U.S. have had their blessed, beady li’l eyes on Cuba since at least the mid-18th century. Guess what? Cubans still ain’t too happy with that notion.

    ‘Course, I’m pretty sure (although not 100%) that urging Canada to beat the Americans to the punch would be all in good fun. Whether economically sound or absurdly patriotic I cannot judge.

    All seriousness aside (as Steverino used to say), I’d not have guessed that “your” Harper held such an enlightened view on Cuba. Why do I think that all neo-cons think alike? Or is he neo-liberal? Neo-lithic?

    Thanks for the provocative.

  • I also agree this is brilliant. One might say geopolitics, and there is strong merit to that, but the real core message here is human to human. Circulate an on-line petition and I’m first to sign up. Marco

  • Eldron Brand

    Although there would be definite advantages for Canada, I don’t see them for Cuba. What do we offer?
    • American-style bi-polar politics
    • A highly parochial medical establishment
    • Submissive-lackey behaviour that surrenders to multi-national corporations’ condescension
    • Wilful and inanely blissful ignorance of our environmental footprint
    • Civic bureaucracies that are eerily similar to 12th Century feudalism
    • Immense illegitimate corporate wealth that straddles governments with all the soft costs that feed the boardroom greed and produce enormous public debts that politicians are too afraid to quell through responsible taxation
    • Idolatry of big trade deals regardless of the costs to sovereignty and ecological sustainability
    • Flagrant disregard of the growing impossibility in just making financial-ends meet, raising a family and having hope for a better future.
    No, I think Cuba is smarter than to enter into that kind of deal.

  • Larry

    I think that is a brilliant idea! Once you get the ambassador ship, remember yours truly as your air attaché!