CAPE BRETON ISLAND, Nova Scotia — Cape Breton If Trump Wins is a website with two top frequently asked questions: “Is this for real?” Yes. “Is this a joke?” No.
Rob Calabrese, a local radio DJ who created the site, admits it started as a joke, but two weeks and 800,000 clicks later, he says thousands of his U.S. neighbors are seriously looking to move to Canada if Donald Trump becomes president.
“As people have told me, I’m just some bozo up in Canada on an island no one’s ever heard of. What I think of him is irrelevant, but the fact is he makes a lot of people very nervous about the future of the country,” Calabrese says.
With its stunning natural beauty, Cape Breton Island — on Canada’s east coast — is a magnet for tourists, but long-term residents have been hard to keep. The island, in the province of Nova Scotia, has coped with economic decline for decades after seeing its steel and coal-mining industries shrink.
“As soon as I started getting serious inquiries, then all of a sudden the joke is over and this is serious, and we have a serious problem. People are showing a serious interest in moving here,” Calabrese says.
Calabrese gets some backing with cold, hard data from Google. It revealed searches for “How can I move to Canada?” spiked nearly 400% in the United States as Super Tuesday primary results showed Trump cementing his front-runner status in the Republican presidential race.
“Now’s the time to plant the seed. Get your affairs in order. That way, the day after the election you’ve got everything all settled, and you can just come on up then,” the DJ says.
Mary Tulle, CEO of Destination Cape Breton, says inquiries to her nonprofit tourism association have been unprecedented, whether by email, Internet or phone.
“We have a fantastic receptionist who would normally handle maybe two inquiries a day,” Tulle says. “We had five people dedicated full time to manage the inquiries.”
She adds her office is fielding serious questions from hopeful American immigrants looking for information about jobs, housing and immigration procedures.
The island’s laid-back and peaceful lifestyle is an obvious draw, but Americans are also asking about Canadian programs, such as government-funded health care, education and investment incentive schemes.
Cape Breton has an abundance of affordable housing, some even on the water or with stunning island views.
“Anybody would come to me and say I don’t see anything I like on the market — I could go knock on a door and find a piece of waterfront for anybody. Give me six hours,” says Valarie Sampson, a real estate agent who says she too has been fielding inquiries from Americans.
Immigration lawyer Damien Barry, an Irish immigrant, says it can be tough getting approval to live and work in Nova Scotia, and there is a lot of red tape from both the Canadian and provincial governments. Still, he says some professions, such as in the medical field or technology, are in high demand, as are investment opportunities.
“There’s a new entrepreneurial stream here where they’re actively encouraging people to invest in businesses in Nova Scotia or to start up their own businesses in Nova Scotia,” Barry says.
The reaction from island residents has been mostly positive and a bit bemused. Many say that even if the website doesn’t end up attracting more Americans willing to move, Cape Breton will hopefully get a “Trump bump” in summer and welcome more tourists.
“Rob’s our hero!! He really is, yeah. I know it started out in fun, but I think he said what we were all thinking,” resident Tracey Boutilier says. “We’re a little bit terrified of what’s going on with your political situation in the States, and Cape Breton is such a haven.”