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Americans on the move to Canada

By Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 20, 2003

NEW YORK - For all they share economically and culturally, Canada and the United States are increasingly at odds on basic social policies - to the point that at least a few discontented Americans are planning to move north and try their neighbors' way of life.

A husband and wife in Minnesota, a college student in Georgia, a young executive in New York. Though each has distinct motives for packing up, they agree the United States is growing too conservative and believe Canada offers a more inclusive, less selfish society.

"For me, it's a no-brainer," said Mollie Ingebrand, a puppeteer from Minneapolis who plans to go to Vancouver with her lawyer husband and 2-year-old son.

"It's the most amazing opportunity I can imagine. To live in a society where there are different priorities in caring for your fellow citizens."

For decades, even while nurturing close ties with the United States, Canadians have often chosen a different path - establishing universal health care, maintaining ties with Cuba, imposing tough gun control laws. Two Canadian initiatives, to decriminalize marijuana and legalize same-sex marriage, have pleased many liberals in the United States and irked conservatives.

New York executive Daniel Hanley, 31, was arranging a move for himself and his partner, Tony, long before the Canadian announcement about same-sex marriage. But the timing delights him. He and Tony hope to marry in front of their families after they immigrate to British Columbia.

"Canada has an opportunity to define itself as a leader," Hanley said. "In some ways, it's now closer to American ideals than America is."

Though many gay American couples are marrying in Canada, virtually all return home, hoping court rulings will lead to official recognition of their unions.

Hanley's situation is different because Tony, a Southeast Asian, is not a U.S. citizen. The men worried Tony could be forced to leave the United States after his student visa expires in two years. They were elated when Canada's immigration agency said they could move there as partners.

Hanley, who works for a Fortune 500 company in Manhattan, doesn't know how the move will affect his career.

"It's a challenge. It's scary," he said. "We'll have to drop everything we know here, go up there and figure it out."

Thomas Hodges, a computer systems major at Georgia State University, said his dismay with American politics started him thinking last year about going abroad. He recently wrote an article in a campus journal titled, "Why I Am Moving To Canada."

"I'm thinking about Toronto, though I hear it's cold up there," Hodges, a lifelong Southerner, said.

Hodges, 21, complained about a "neoconservative shift" in the United States and praised Canada's approach to health care and education.

"The U.S. educational system is unfair - you have to live in certain areas to go to good schools," he said.

Rene Mercier of Canada's immigration department said any upsurge in U.S.-to-Canada immigration based on current political developments won't be detectable for a few years because of the time required to process residency applications.

During the Vietnam War, U.S. emigration to Canada surged as thousands of young men, often accompanied by wives or girlfriends, moved to avoid the draft. But every year since 1977, more Canadians have immigrated to the United States than vice versa - the 2001 figures were 5,894 Americans moving north, 30,203 Canadians moving south.

Mollie Ingebrand, 34, said she has felt an affinity for Canada for many years, fueled partly by respect for its health care system. Her doubts about the United States go back further, to a childhood spent with liberal parents in a relatively conservative part of Ohio.

"In school I was always told this is the best country on earth, and everyone else wants to be American, and that never really rang true to me," she said. "As I got older, it occurred to me there were other choices."

Her husband, George, 44, has spent little time in Canada, but said it seems to offer a more relaxed, less competitive way of life. He has no qualms about leaving his law practice and selling the family's upscale home in Minneapolis.

"I don't idealize Canada the way my wife does, but I'm ready for an adventure," he said. "I don't know what I'm going to be facing. That's what I'm reveling in."

The Ingebrands have completed the first batch of paperwork to apply for Canadian residency, hoping their talents and finances compensate for lack of specific job offers. As Minnesotans, they look forward to Vancouver's wet but mild climate: "Green all year, no mosquitos," Mollie said.

At Georgia State, Hodges said some conservative schoolmates have challenged his proposed move to Canada, saying he would be abandoning his homeland.

Conversely, Mollie Ingebrand says some of her friends - people who share her left-of-center views - argue she should stay at home to battle for changes here.

"I've been there and done that," Molly said. "I don't want to stay and fight anymore. I can have that bittersweet love for my country from somewhere else."

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