There is a buzz out there that some Americans are thinking that it might be a time to consider moving to Canada; Even starchitect Frank Gehry is thinking of returning after 70 years away. Many American news sources have taken note of a website “Cape Breton if Trump Wins,” which is full of useful information. But most Canadians would say Cape Breton? Really? It’s beautiful and quite a few wealthy Americans summer there, but since the coal mines shut down, it has become an economic backwater.
Canada has been welcoming Americans for a long time, although the country loses more to its bigger, richer neighbor than it gains from it. Canada was popular during prohibition, and again during the Vietnam War, when thousands of Americans came along with writers, architects, educators and others who added so much to the richness and economic vitality of the country. No doubt the welcome mat will be put out again.
I'm a Canadian living in Toronto and I could say nice things about the city, but to be fair, most everyone else in the country hates Toronto. There's even a movie about it, "Let’s All Hate Toronto," which examines the phenomenon. Even most people in Toronto hate Toronto; the city is still in shock from the Rob Ford years and just beginning to straighten itself out from that horror show. It’s the biggest city in the country but it's really expensive to live in. In the MoneySense Guide to the best places to live in Canada, it came way down at number No. 35. And, according to one study, it is the second unhappiest city in the country.
Now it must be said that this MoneySense survey should be taken with a milligram of salt, because No. 1 is Boucherville, Quebec, which I have never even heard of. It appears to have everything MoneySense loves: low unemployment, affordable housing, healthy population growth. But it’s a suburb (boring). The report appears to measure practical things first and they appear to neglect the all-important craft breweries, tattoo parlors and board game bars, the new hot trend. That's probably why the three biggest cities score so poorly and the smaller places like this do so well. Also 93.6 percent of the population speaks French, which might be a problem for Americans.
The top English-speaking city on the list is Ottawa, and there are a lot of nice things to be said about the capital city of Canada. Great for recreation (you can even skate to work in winter) the greenest development project in North America is being built on an island there, lots of culture and sophistication for a relatively small city.
And as former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau once said about it (angering a lot of people in the city), the nicest thing about Ottawa is the highway to Montreal, only two hours away to what is the country’s most interesting city, with architecture, culture, sophistication and joie de vivre unmatched anywhere else in the country. I think that its Plateau district is one of the most interesting urban places I have ever seen and is a wonderful place to live. Alas, they don't do ice palaces anymore. Unfortunately it only comes in at 161 on the best cities list. I guess you could live across the river in Boucherville.
If you're into tech, the best place to be is probably Waterloo or Kitchener (formerly Berlin), where the University of Waterloo spawned much of Canada’s tech industry, including Blackberry and all of the companies that have formed out of its wreckage. It has not gone the Finland route but is still a vibrant and busy tech center, and not too far from Toronto if you feel the urge for big city sophistication. Also hot on the list in southern Ontario are Burlington (jobs) Stratford (culture, health care) and Oakville (lots of rich people and expanding fast).
You may recognize this photo; it is a screen shot from Marco Rubio’s "Morning in America" ad that showed Vancouver by mistake. The place is so wonderfully photogenic that a little Manifest Destiny happened and it became America. Vancouver is also a vibrant tech center, with a lot of big American companies setting up shop to employ computer geniuses from Asia who cannot get into the States. Vancouver has everything; it is stunningly beautiful, easy to bike, close to mountains and scenery and anything you could want. I was in Seattle last year and met a Vancouverite who had never been to Seattle before; I was surprised and asked him why and he answered “Why bother?” Unfortunately Vancouver also has the highest real estate prices this side of Hong Kong and is becoming completely unaffordable.
Calgary was really hot for a couple of years, with lots of jobs thanks to the oil boom, but with the low oil prices, the economy has been hit hard. It is still a fascinating city with the best mayor anywhere, some of the smartest people I have ever met and it will be back.
Right now the country is a mix of good and bad news; economically it's not so hot, with its addiction to oil and commodity revenues. That’s caused the loonie (what Canadians call their dollar) to drop like a rock; this is hard on Canadians but just wonderful for Americans who find their dollar goes way farther up here. If you have a telecommuting job that you can do in Canada while getting paid in U.S. dollars, you have scored.
(Don't tell my boss, please!)
Entrepreneurs will tell you that it's a great place to start a business, because universal health care means workers are more mobile since nobody is trapped in a job because of their insurance plan; however income taxes are higher and there's none of that silly mortgage deductibility. The worldwide spread of chains from H&M to IKEA to the GAP means the main streets won't look too different, and Starbucks really is better than Tim Horton's, the local dominant chain.
Canada is relatively welcoming to immigrants, from both Syria and America. There is no right to bear arms and there are not many guns but there are more smuggled in from the States than we would like, and a firearm homicide rate that is about a 10th that of the U.S. Same sex marriage and abortion are legal and even most conservatives are resigned to the fact that they are here to stay. The political system has significant flaws, but we just look south and feel a whole lot better about it. The metric system is a pain if you weren’t born into it. But hey, so far as we know, Justin Bieber doesn’t live here anymore. Neither does Ted Cruz.
So on behalf of my fellow Canadians I say, welcome! We have good coffee and good beer but seriously, keep away from the poutine, a Quebecois specialty that is a disgusting mix of French fries, cheese curds and gravy. It will kill you and should never have been allowed west of Boucherville.