After Election Day, it’s off to Canada

We were getting ready to play a song by the Canadian songwriter Gordon Lightfoot when Retro Dan needed a quick moment to tune. Wanting to fill some dead air (I’m pretty good at rambling on about nothing as readers of this column can attest), I announced that because of the current political climate, Dan and I were considering moving to Canada.

We learned this song, I said, so we could fit in. It was totally bogus, of course — we love our country no matter how weird it gets, but I think at least one person laughed, which what I was going for.

Later, I pondered the somewhat common threat some people make to move to Canada if and when certain things, mostly political, occur.

Celebrities especially are wont to do this. Wasn’t it Alex Baldwin who threatened to move out of the country if George W. Bush was elected in 2000? He’s still here, right? Baldwin, I mean. Now the word is Rosie O’Donnell and Miley Cyrus will move to Canada if Donald Trump is elected. Makes me wonder how Canadians will feel about that.

Of course, not many people actually make good on the threat or promise to move to Canada. Although the numbers are hard to pin down, 8,000 to 9,000 U.S. citizens are awarded Canadian permanent resident status per year (versus an average of 33,000 Canadians who move to the U.S.). Since the Canadian government does not collect information on why someone is immigrating, it is impossible to know for sure if they are moving because of political candidates.

Evidence suggests that economic interests are the primary reason people leave the United States for Canada. In a related statistic, in 2015 more than 4,200 people renounced their U.S. citizenship because of our complicated tax laws.

I’ve had a soft place in my heart for Canada ever since my first road trip out of the country, to Point Pelee National Park in Ontario. My buddies and I didn’t feel like we were really in the Great White North since it is the southern most tip of mainland Canada, and we were farther south than Detroit. Still it was fun going through customs and realizing we were in another country.

On another Canadian road trip in the early 1970s, my friend and I found ourselves in Toronto in a long line of cars during a routine traffic check. We showed the officer (Was he a Mountie?) our identification. He looked at my draft card and said in a not-too-serious voice, “Why haven’t you moved up here?”

During the Vietnam era, many young Americans did in fact move to Canada. One estimate says that from 1965-1975 between 30,000 and 40,000 young people left the U.S. to make Canada their home. Many of them stayed even after President Jimmy Carter formally pardoned them in 1977, allowing for a safe return.

If Alex, Rosie, Miley or just a normal person decides to move to Canada, there is a real likelihood that he or she won’t find it easy.

Like the United States and pretty much every other country in the world, Canada limits the number and types of immigrants they will accept each year. Education level, language skills and potential economic contribution are just a few of the considerations taken into account when you apply. It is a time-consuming process and could potentially take years. By that time, that political demon you fear could be out of office.

Adam Alter, a psychology and marketing professor at New York University, writes that studies show people tend to overestimate how upset they will be about a disappointing political contest. If a dreaded candidate wins, the immediate distress will be short-lived and then life will likely go on as before.

That sounds right to me. Even so, Retro Dan and I are working on some more Gordon Lightfoot songs. Just in case.