Red-zone blues? North, Americans!

For a small number of citizens, those preelection pledges that they would up and move to Canada if the president emerged victorious were no idle threat. And now the United States' neighbors to the nor

By Robin Abcarian

Los Amgeles Times

December 11, 2004

Just before the Nov. 2 election, it was common in some liberal circles to hear people joke — or threaten — to move to Canada if the president won. Not since the days of the Vietnam War and the draft, when an estimated 50,000 Americans fled north, had so many citizens considered getting the heck out of Dodge and moving up to Moose Jaw.

Then the president won. As anger turned to resignation, thoughts of Canada faded like a patch of snow in a spring thaw.

Indeed, while the media churned out stories in early November about a great northern exodus and Canadian websites reported huge increases in traffic, once the emotional dust settled, Americans went about their lives. Or at least most did.

Now it appears that a small (and as yet unquantifiable) group really is pulling up stakes.

Consider Ralph Appoldt, an Oregon-based sales manager for a company that makes power wheelchairs. His fury has yet to subside. Slowly and deliberately, he is planning his move to Canada.

"This is a hard thing to do," said Appoldt, 51. "It's not like we have miserable lives. In a nutshell, I think our administration is just very ugly. Everything they have done is regressive and against my basic beliefs. If this is what America wants, then I don't want to be an American anymore."

In the last week, more than 300 people in L.A., Seattle and San Francisco paid $25 each to attend how-to seminars put on by a Canadian immigration law firm. And traffic on a variety of Canadian websites is higher than normal.

In the capital of Canada (50 points if you can name it), immigration officials dubbed the huge increase in visits to their official website "the November spike." Traffic grew from an average number of around 50,000 hits a day to 180,000 on Nov. 3. A majority of the hits — 64% — came from south of the border. Traffic on the site did not return to normal for 10 days, then shot up again and is still running above average.

Whether this will translate into a real immigration boomlet will not be known for at least four months, said Canadian immigration spokeswomen Maria Iadinardi by phone from the capital (which would be Ottawa.)

But one thing is certain: Canada, which has a population roughly the size of California's in a land mass slightly larger than the entire United States, needs immigrants. "We're such a small country," said Iadinardi. "We're very underpopulated. We are one of the largest countries in the world, and we only have 32 million people."

For certain kinds of people, Canada opens its arms. People who want to apply for permanent resident status in the easiest category — "skilled worker" — need only score 67 out of 100 on a test that awards points for education, language proficiency (French and English), work experience and age. There are no sure bets, say immigration attorneys, but just about anyone in good health with a college degree, a decent work record and a blank rap sheet can make the grade. (Even illness is not necessarily grounds for inadmissibility, although Canada reserves the right to refuse entry to people who would might put an undue strain on its social resources.)

About 1 million Americans live in Canada; fewer than 6,000 Americans move there each year. This is barely a dent in Canada's goal of about 250,000 new immigrants a year. (Compare that, say, with the U.S., which has a population of about 294 million, around 10 times the size of Canada's, and allows about a million legal immigrants in each year.) "Immigration," said Iadinardi, "is always a positive thing for Canada."

One website launched as a spoof by THIS magazine, a Toronto-based political journal, invited Canadians to "rescue" Americans by marrying them.The site got so many hits the weekend after the election — 350 per second, up from 350 per day — that its servers crashed. More than a month later, traffic has slowed, but 893,000 people have visited the site. More than 6,500 Canadians have pledged to marry an American. And the magazine's publisher, Joyce Byrne, said Wednesday that for those who are serious about trans-border romance, THIS Magazine has just teamed with actforlove.org, which calls itself "the dating site for activists, leftists, news junkies."

For disappointed blue-state types, the list of reasons to consider Canada are featured succinctly on a portal website called CanadianAlternative.com: The country has universal health care, no troops in Iraq, has signed the Kyoto Protocol, and its Senate has recommended legalizing marijuana.

"We are certainly promoting a certain vision of Canada," said the site's creator, Jason Mogus, 31, CEO of a communications firm that works for progressive nonprofit groups. "We love the fact that Canada is a more tolerant and open society."

On Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the government can redefine marriage to include gay couples. Public opinion in the country is about evenly split on the matter, but six out of the country's 10 provinces have already legalized such unions.

Monday night in a downtown Los Angeles hotel, Vancouver-based immigration attorneys Rudolph Kischer and Joshua Sohn presented their 90-minute seminar on how to move to Canada to a packed room. They'd already been to Seattle and San Francisco and were surprised by the turnouts. In Los Angeles, about 80 people attended — some from as far away as Oxnard and San Diego. The attorneys focused on how to gain permanent resident status, which takes 18 to 24 months, not on work permits (which are for people who already have Canadian job offers and are expected to be in the country only temporarily).

Permanent residents may apply for citizenship after three years; in most cases Americans can become dual citizens.

Sitting near the back of the room, the Griggs family of Oxnard — brother Bill, sister Kelly and their 72-year old mother, Joan, listened intently. Joan Griggs said she's tired of being surrounded by immigrants and wants to leave. "We'll go somewhere where we're the immigrants," she said. Kelly, 43, said she wants to move because housing in Canada is more affordable and the people are nicer.

The idea that Canadians are more "civilized" than Americans is entrenched on both sides of the what has often been called world's longest nondefended border. "You'll know a Canadian," Vancouver currency expert Michael Parker-Fyfe joked at Monday's seminar, "because he's the guy who apologizes when you bump into him."

"What we have here in Canada," said Michael Adams, a pollster and sociologist, "is like the consensus in Massachusetts and coastal California — if those people ran the country. That's what Canada is like." Adams' most recent book, "Fire and Ice," explores the idea that far from becoming more alike, Canada and the States are diverging in significant ways. "America is moving in a more conservative direction … to a more Darwinistic model." Canada, he says, embraces the social welfare state, has institutionalized gender equality in its constitution and is more truly egalitarian.

"When the U.S. talks about rights," said David Cohen, a Montreal immigration attorney, "Americans think in terms of individual rights. Canadians have a concept more of collective rights. So for instance, we have a national health program that's free at the point of delivery. We complain about the system and the level of care fluctuates according to province, but I don't think a majority of Canadians think we should go back to where there is not coverage for everyone."

Canada is often stereotyped (and parodied) as a chilly paradise full of polite, self-effacing people. But expat Californian David Beers, who lives in British Columbia, warned in Salon last month that "Canada's got its right-wing media barons, its right-wing think tanks, its tax revolters and Bible Belters. Its biggest province by far, Ontario, is digging out from a nine-year neoconservative reign … which left infrastructure crumbling, social programs lashed, homeless ranks swelling after welfare rolls were purged."

And while Canada officially welcomes well-qualified Americans, there is an undeniable strain of anti-Americanism in the popular culture. Last month in a Calgary Sun column about disaffected Democrats heading north, Ian Robinson wrote: "I hope I'm not alone in gently suggesting to those considering coming to Canada: Stay home, you pathetic whining maggots."

David Frum, a Yale-educated Canadian and former Bush speechwriter who lives in Washington, D.C., isn't so harsh. He did, however, point out in an e-mail that "If we opened the U.S.-Canada border to migrants dissatisfied with the current government of their country, you'd find 20 Canadians moving southward to George Bush's America for every American who moved away."

One subset of Americans who have been keeping immigration attorneys busy are gay Americans whose partners are from other countries. The U.S. doesn't recognize domestic partnerships, which means the foreign partner cannot get permanent resident status by claiming family ties.

Michelle Paymar, for instance, is a 47-year-old Hollywood documentary maker whose partner of 10 years, Veronique, is French and has a student visa that is about to expire. They met when Paymar lived in Paris years ago. (Veronique asked that her last name not be used; even though she is here legally, she did not want to draw the attention of immigration officials here, she said.)

After much soul-searching, Paymar and Veronique have decided to move to Vancouver, where they will start over. Because they can prove they've been together for more than a year, the Canadian government considers them a family.

Paymar, the primary applicant, has spent months compiling a dossier for immigration authorities documenting, among other things, every job she has held since age 18 (no small feat for someone who has mostly worked freelance jobs). The couple have already bought a small condo in Vancouver, which they plan to rent out until they move.

"It was a decision of last resort," said Paymar, sitting in their condo near the Capitol Records building in Hollywood. "We don't want to leave the United States. Los Angeles is my home, we've made a life here together the last six years. Family is here, friends are here, but after investigating all of the possibilities we didn't really have any legal options left."

For them, as with any Americans who leave as a matter of conscience or expedience, there are tremendous emotions involved.

"I have always been proud of being an American, especially after 9/11" said Lorraine Wright, 45, who was living in Redmond, Wash., when she decided to move to the ski resort area of Whistler after the 2000 election. "But that was an opportunity that was squandered. Instead of taking that good will and using it, the path we took was exact opposite of anything I could support. I mean [invading] Afghanistan, I could understand, but invading Iraq was so out of left field."

Wright, whose father was Canadian, drove to Seattle last month to cast her vote for John Kerry. The next day, back in Canada, her new citizenship card arrived in the mail. "It was a nice pick-me-up," she said. "I get the feeling that some Americans go 'Good riddance, you traitor.' But I got 40 good years left and I want to be surrounded by people who reflect my values. I am happier here all the time. It's colder, it's wetter, it's a big move, but living in a place that reflects what you stand for is pretty powerful, pretty exciting."

Bippy McMaster, an artist, teacher and singer, is moving from Point Arena, Calif., to British Columbia with her husband and two children. A charter school founder, she said she ran out of steam trying to figure out how to solve the tremendous problems facing her community and the children served by the school. In Nelson, an artsy town that is home to a number of '70s-era Vietnam war resisters, she and her musician husband plan to convert a Mission-style church to a performance space.

"I have been tremendously welcomed here," McMaster said on the phone from Nelson last week. "I feel a little bit like a traitor, because I know the States needs people to stay and fight for the kinds of things I spent my life doing — arts for kids and so on. But there's a point where you can honor your gifts and that's why I'm here. It was a big deal to leave, but I think this will be a better place for us."

Ralph Appoldt, the Portland wheelchair salesman, will be moving as soon as he can sell his house and arrange for employment. He doesn't know much about Canadian history, but he figures the cultural similarities will ease the transition. "Culturally, it's pretty much the same without the violence and the belligerence," said Appoldt. "I would add arrogance, but then, I've never been to French Canada."