TORONTO – Americans have said it many times before when eyeing a White House prospect they view as unpalatable: “If that guy is elected president, I’m moving to Canada!”
Is this time for real?
As real estate billionaire Donald Trump inches closer to the Republican presidential nomination, some Canadians have started to prepare for an influx, albeit with some tongues in cheeks.
The island of Cape Breton on Canada’s Atlantic coast is marketing itself as a tranquil refuge, and the mayor of an Ontario border town has noted the greenback is accepted everywhere. Columnists are jockeying to recommend best regions for Americans seeking to escape should Trump capture the party nomination and go on to win November’s U.S. presidential election.
Trump’s bombastic campaign has alarmed some in his own party, let alone liberal Americans. Heaping abuse on rivals and critics, he has stirred up controversy with proposals such as a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country and a wall along the Mexican border.
“People seem to be getting nervous about the possibility of Donald Trump being president,” said Rob Calabrese, a radio DJ in Nova Scotia who created a website to extol the virtues of Cape Breton, the province’s economically depressed northern tip, as a getaway from a Trump presidency.
Calabrese sparked such a wave of Internet interest the province’s tourism agency had to rehire three laid-off workers just to keep up with immigration inquiries from U.S. citizens.
“It’s been quite extraordinary,” said Mary Tulle, chief executive of Destination Cape Breton, the island’s tourism agency. In just over a week, their website got 300,000 visits — more than in all 2015 and two-thirds from Americans — with the top three questions being immigration, employment and housing.
As the U.S. election season — famously partisan even without a Trump in the mix — heats up, Tulle touts the lack of political fervor as one of the best reasons to migrate to the island. “It’s unpopulated, it’s beautiful, it’s pristine, and politics for the most part don’t really dominate a conversation. The weather tends to be more prevalent a topic,” Tulle said.
Citizenship and Immigration officials did not respond to a request for comment, while Canada’s Foreign Affairs Department said it does not keep track of requests for information at Canada’s embassy or consulates in the United States.
Migration data from after Republican George W. Bush’s 2000 election and 2004 re-election — other moments when liberal Americans pledged to move to Canada in protest — suggests few followed up on their promises. While immigration to Canada increased during the years of Bush’s elections, the rise was not more than increases in other years, data from the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies show.
While the exodus is still only theoretical, two comedians are promoting The Canada Party as an alternative to America’s crop of presidential candidates, saying Canadians can help solve America’s myriad problems.
“As human beings, obviously it is very depressing and terrifying, but as comedy writers, it’s gold,” said Chris Cannon, an expatriate American living in Vancouver and co-author of the political manifesto “America, But Better.”
Others are more welcoming.
In an article headlined “Trump threat offers opportunity for P.E.I.,” a newspaper in Prince Edward Island urged political leaders to get in on the marketing action.
The mayor of perhaps the most famous Canada-U.S. border town noted that hopping just over the border could be an easy transition for migrants.
“Americans feel very comfortable here,” Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati said, noting the U.S. dollar is accepted as currency everywhere in the city. “And we still get a lot of American channels here, so they are not going to miss any TV from back home,” Diodati said. “If people do come, we’ll welcome them with open arms.”
But while some 30,000 people avoiding the draft or deserting the armed forces came to Canada during the Vietnam War and some same-sex couples migrated before gay marriage became legal in the United States, migration experts are skeptical that an eventual Trump White House win would spark an exodus.
“At this point I think it is rhetoric more than anything else,” said Brian Ray, a geography professor at the University of Ottawa who has studied U.S. migration to Canada.
“There are real financial, social and emotional costs associated with migration . . . and whoever gets elected is at most going to be there for eight years. The process of migration is long and expensive.”
Either way, Diodati welcomes the excitement.
“With people like Trump in the race it’s great entertainment. Before we’d be talking about the hockey game. Now Canadians are talking about the U.S. election and the primaries,” he said.
One Canadian talking in carefully diplomatic terms is Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Asked whether he will “stand up to Trump and condemn his hateful rhetoric,” he told a town hall meeting in December that it is important for Canadians to have a positive relationship with whoever Americans choose as their president.
But he added: “I don’t think it comes as a surprise to anyone that I stand firmly against the politics of division, the politics of fear, the politics of intolerance or hateful rhetoric.”