The Canadian Press
WASHINGTON, Wash. — When people in the United States talk about moving to Canada to escape four more years of Donald Trump, it's usually either a punchline or a pipe dream. Ask some of the roughly 800,000 Canadians who live in the U.S., though, and it becomes one of three things: a parachute, a very real possibility or an honest-to-God plan of action. "If Trump wins again, I'm moving to B.C.," says Anastasia Synn, a performance artist from Shelburne, Ont., who has been living in Las Vegas for the last 10 years. Synn is married to Johnathan Szeles, a hard-living magician whose shock-jock mash-ups of comedy, fake gore and sleight-of-hand made him a household name on the Vegas strip a decade ago.These days, between her husband's lifestyle and failing health, she lives in a trailer in the driveway, waiting for the right excuse to drag it back to the country of her birth.Complicated though their marriage may be, Synn says she loves Szeles, whose career was sidelined by a heart condition. She cares for him daily and worries constantly about what a second term of Trump could mean for his health care if he remains in the U.S. "I told him, 'Even if you don't want to come up with me right away ... if you get sick and you need to come to Canada, you can still be my husband and you come up there and we'll take care of you."But I'm not staying here for this," she says of the president. "You could not pay me to stay."Synn is not eligible to vote, so she does the next best thing: encouraging everyone she meets to vote Democrat. She's even convinced Szeles, also known as "The Amazing Johnathan," to cast a ballot."He's never voted. The fact that he's voting is a big, big deal."Her activism, however, has come at a steep personal price in the U.S., a country so deeply riven between its political and societal poles that wearing a face mask to limit the spread of COVID-19 has become a partisan issue.For Synn, 10 years of being south of the border has led her to a single, inescapable conclusion: certain basic human values like empathy and compassion are in short supply where she lives. "People have actually decided they're not going to be my friend any more," she said. "It's quite disturbing how many people I've lost in the entertainment field as friends. People I used to sit down and have Christmas dinner with every year, you know, they're gone."For others, moving north is more parachute than Plan A. But it's comforting either way, said Tristan Wallis, who lives with his wife in an affluent suburb of Boston and originally hails from Sherbrooke, Que."We periodically — and more so lately — talk about, depending on what happens in November, do we move back to Canada?" said Wallis, 39."It gives you the confidence to sort of sit and wait and see what happens, knowing that … if things get really, really, really bad, you don't have to start freaking out and planning for it."Life in the United States these days isn't all bad, Wallis was quick to add. "The job prospects down here, frankly, are better in a lot of ways, the salaries are better in a lot of ways, especially in this area," he said. "There's a reason we're here. And it would have to get bad enough here for us to want to leave and go back to Canada, where maybe we would be giving up some of the benefits of being down here."There's little love lost among Canadians for Trump, polls suggest. A recent Pew Research survey found only 20 per cent of respondents expressed confidence in the president, the lowest level reported in nearly 20 years of polling north of the border. And a survey released last week by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies found 73 per cent of respondents expect a Joe Biden election victory after Nov. 3, compared with 54 per cent of Americans surveyed.That could be a reflection of the shellshock that still lingers in the U.S. after 2016, when polls were consistently giving the edge to Hillary Clinton right up until election night. Rachel Sunshine Bernatt, a caregiver from Toronto who lives in the Georgia community of Acworth, north of Atlanta, said she thinks a lot about returning — especially when the spectre of outright racism finds its way past her front door. And she knows that a Biden presidency won't make it all magically disappear. "I've had people in my house, I've had to kick them out for using the N-word — they thought, since I'm white, it's OK with me," Bernatt said. "I don't want to try and have a conversation with them at that point. There's really no fixing stupid, and, you know, that way of thinking, I don't know if he can fix it."Mark LaPointe, who grew up in Windsor but now makes his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said he's been living in the U.S. too long to consider moving back to Canada now, even if his American friends covet the option. LaPointe, 40, often ventures out on weekends to watch dozens of Trump supporters who gather on a street corner every Saturday, brandishing placards and Trump flags and encouraging passersby to honk their support.Given their backgrounds in places like Cuba and Venezuela, he said, members of the region's large Latino population embrace the Republican message decrying communism and socialism, even if what they've experienced bears little resemblance to what progressive Democrats espouse. His anti-Trump friends and colleagues shake their heads as much as he does. "This is a very shameful time for them," said LaPointe, who specializes in internet security."A lot of my American friends here can totally acknowledge that. Some of them are, like, 'Mark, why the hell are you still here?'"Some of them, men and women alike, have even proposed marriage. "I have a friend in Michigan who wants to marry me, just so she can get Canadian citizenship," LaPointe chuckled. "I've actually had a bunch of men propose to me, half-assed serious. And I'm just, like, 'You're not pretty enough. Sorry.'"This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 23, 2020.
James McCarten, The Canadian Press