OTTAWA — For realtor Valarie Sampson, Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the presidential election is great news. By midday Wednesday, the website for her brokerage firm on Cape Breton Island in rural Nova Scotia had already gotten 3,200 hits, mainly from election-spooked Americans.
That’s because the website for Sampson’s RE/MAX-affiliated brokerage firm is linked directly to “Cape Breton if Trump Wins,” a website set up last winter by local disc jockey Rob Calabrese to try to lure Americans anxious about the prospect of a Trump presidency to settle in this scenic but economically challenged corner of Atlantic Canada.
The website, which has attracted 2 million visitors since it was set up as a bit of a lark by Calabrese and his wife, has a down-home, slightly whimsical feel to it with lots of alluring photos of gorgeous beaches, quaint fishing villages and music festivals, combined with practical advice. “How much would it cost for a 3-bedroom lakeside home in your state? About a jillion dollars? You would need to BE Donald Trump to afford a place like that. But in Cape Breton, we have the most affordable housing market in North America.”
By noon Wednesday, the Cape Breton site had had about 40,000 visitors since Election Day, and unlike the website of the Canadian government’s immigration department, which crashed in the immediate aftermath of the vote, it was still running. Calabrese is hoping at least some of those visitors will set down roots on the island, which is losing 1,000 residents a year, but he admits the immigration process for newcomers isn’t easy.
“You just can’t show up at the border and expect to move here,” explained Jonathan Leebosh, an immigration lawyer with Ernst & Young on the other side of the country in Vancouver, British Columbia. “If you don’t have a permanent resident’s visa, they won’t let you in.”
Leebosh said that Canada is an open country that is looking for well-educated migrants but he warns that Americans fleeing Trump will find that there are many others in line. “They’re competing against others who already have job offers,” Leebosh said.
The Canadian government has announced its intention to accept 300,000 new permanent residents in 2017 but that number includes immigrants with family ties and refugees, as well as economic newcomers. And would-be migrants to the province of British Columbia, where house prices have soared to stratospheric levels in part because of an influx of Chinese buyers, will have to remember something. “B.C. means Bring Cash,” Leebosh said.
Cash may not be much of a problem for the likes of actresses Lena Dunham or Barbra Streisand, who vowed to leave the United States for Canada or other countries if Trump were elected. It wasn’t immediately known what their moving plans were in the wake of the election, but the Twittersphere was full of sarcastic comments from critics anxious for them to follow through with their threats.
“What if Canada no longer wants Lena Dunham,” tweeted conservative talk-show host and onetime Republican congressman Joe Walsh. “What if Mexico doesn’t want her? Or France? What if no country wants her?”
Migration trends aside, there has been lots of hand-wringing among Canadian economists, business executives and politicians over a possible hit to the Canadian economy from a Trump presidency, particularly when it comes to trade. (The sole exception was the oil industry, which hopes Trump will allow the Keystone XL oil-sands pipeline to proceed.) Although Trump has targeted Mexico with his criticism of the North American Free Trade Agreement, if the deal is scrapped by Washington, Canadian exports will be hit hard, too.
“It’s going to be rough weather in terms of Canada-U. S. trade,” said Lawrence Herman, a Toronto trade lawyer who notes that if Trump wants to reopen NAFTA, Canada will have little choice but to sit down with Washington and renegotiate.
Trump can credit his victory on his surge in Rust Belt states, such as Ohio and Michigan, where he got substantial support from white working-class voters, who may be no less thrilled to see jobs move north than south. “Trump says he wants to bring back jobs and investments, so what’s his position going to be if GM decides to put a major new investment in Canada?” Herman wondered.
And when Trump calls on U.S. allies to pay more for their mutual defense, Canada may find itself the subject of sharp criticism for its level of military spending, the lowest among NATO members as a portion of GDP, Herman said. Added to that is the end of the brief bromance between the President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Canada-U. S. relations function most smoothly when there are good relations at the top. A much-cited example is the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan first negotiated free trade with Canada’s Brian Mulroney.
As for Trudeau himself, he made public the usual congratulatory message to the new president and in response to a question at a meeting of youth here, was upbeat:
“We’re going to work with neighbors, and I’m going to work with President-elect Trump’s administration, as we move forward in a positive way not just for Canadians and Americans but the whole world.”