You’ve heard people say it: “If they get elected... I’m moving to Canada!” Which got us to wondering: Is the grass REALLY greener up North? Our Cover Story is reported by John Blackstone:
On Election Night 1980, 21-year-old Bairbre Kennedy was looking forward to another four years in Washington, D.C., working in the Transportation Department for the first president she would ever vote for: Jimmy Carter.
“After work I went to vote and things weren’t looking so good at that point. So I went to my neighborhood bar, and things weren’t looking so good at that point, either!” she laughed.
“There were a lot of people all lined up crying in their beers over what the future might bring.”
One reporter asked Kennedy about her feelings. She told her, “I’m so depressed, I think I’ll move to Canada.”
Going to Canada, Kennedy told Blackstone, “seemed like a natural choice for anyone to take.”
It’s a choice thousands of Americans claim to be considering again this election year, if they don’t like the next president.
“It’s not realistic; it’s silly,” says Peter McMartin, a columnist for the Vancouver Sun. “This whole thing about coming to Canada, I just find it kind of presumptuous in a way about Americans. Like, ‘Yeah, we’re Americans. Who wouldn’t want us, right?’”
McMartin finds it mildly insulting that Canada is considered the refuge of last resort.
“It’s like Americans are holding Canada up to their forehead, and they’re saying, ‘If if Donald Trump becomes president, or Hillary becomes president, I’m going to shoot myself in the head with Canada!’ Like Canada is a fate worse than Canada, you know? How would you feel?”
Air Canada is poking fun at the idea in a new ad campaign, reminding Americans some things are different up North, inviting people to “test drive Canada”:
“Seems like a lot of you are talking about moving up here to Canada. It’s very flattering, and we certainly have the room. ... But before you sell your house and book a one-way ticket, maybe it makes sense to check us out first. Make it a long weekend. Take a look around. Try your hand with the metric system!”
Better learn to skate, too. As if six months of winter isn’t bad enough, some Canadians -- like Vancouver native Maureen Charron -- spend much of the summer on ice.
“Don’t you want to warm up sometime?” asked Blackstone.
Charron demurred: “This is exercise. This is fun and it’s exercise and it’s social!”
Be warned: On skates Canadians can be aggressive; otherwise they’re so polite it can be annoying.
“We’re too apathetic. Totally too apathetic,” Charron said. “We can’t get a good protest or a good revolution happening, and sometimes it’s necessary, right?”
During the Vietnam War, Canada accepted a flood of immigrants, as some 240,000 Americans fled the U.S. to avoid the draft.
But over the last decade only about 9,000 Americans each year have moved to Canada.
Sarah Roth -- a Canadian since January -- was one of them. “I was used to New Yorkers just saying it like it is,” she told Blackstone. “And I think you have to be a little bit more polite here.”
Her shirt may say “Canadians,” but Roth is a New Jersey native who was definitely born in the USA. When she moved to Vancouver for a new job eight years ago, she knew almost nothing about Canada.
“Probably if you had asked me who the prime minister was at the time, I may not have been able to answer,” she said.
Baseball remains Roth’s favorite pastime, but along the way to becoming Canadian she has made plenty of adjustments. “We really miss Trader Joe’s,” she said.
That’s right, shoppers: There are no Trader Joe’s in Canada. No Target stores, either.
- Meet Trader Joe’s Canadian counterpart: Pirate Joe’s (“Sunday Morning,” 04/12/15)
But there are Tim Horton’s shops, which have made donuts a national dish in Canada, rivaled only by the popularity of poutine -- that hearty meal of French fries and cheese curds soaked in gravy.
“The funniest thing is that we have the British royalty in our money,” Roth said. “To me, that was the biggest adjustment. And actually, when you become a citizen, you have to take an oath to the Queen.”
Indeed, Americans who choose to become Canadian will find themselves living under the same monarchy the revolution defeated in 1776.
Among the new Canadians recently sworn in was Jason Birchard, born and raised in Texas.
“It’s amazing; I didn’t think I’d be so emotional!” he said.
Birchard moved here seven years ago when same-sex marriage was legal in Canada but not yet widely accepted in the U.S. He and his partner got married.
He has learned the first letter of the Canadian alphabet: “Eh?”
“Yeah! And I’m from Texas. So I say, ‘Eh, y’all’!”
If he were not already a Canadian citizen, he might well be among those Americans vowing to move here depending on who wins the election.
“The U.S. is an amazing country,” Birchard said. “Hopefully it’ll make the right decision in November.”
“If it makes what you would say is the wrong decision in November, do you think there’s going to be a lot of people following you here?” Blackstone said.
“Yes. Maybe they’ll wanna build a wall!”
While some Americans may be considering a move North, about twice as many Canadians move to the U.S. each year. And Blackstone was one of them. [He became a U.S. citizen in 2003.]
McMartin asked Blackstone, “You’re living in the United States. Have you lost your Canadian sensibility? You seem very polite, by the way.”
“I am, thank you!”
Being a polite Canadian himself, McMartin has nice things to say about why Americans will, in fact, not head North … no matter who wins the election.
“You know, it’s just not like Americans to flee their problems. They seem to want to tackle things head-on rather than running away, from Donald Trump or Hilary.”
As for Bairbre Kennedy, who was so depressed when Ronald Reagan won the presidency, she said things seemed hopeless. She did end up moving -- to Seattle.
“Got this far, didn’t actually go up and cross the border?” Blackstone said.
“Just for fun,” she replied.
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