VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Christopher Key knows exactly what he would be giving up if he left Bellingham, Wash. "It's the sort of place Norman Rockwell would paint, where everyone watches out for everyone else and we have block parties every year," said Mr. Key, a 56-year-old Vietnam War veteran and former magazine editor who lists Francis Scott Key among his ancestors.
But leave it he intends to do, and as soon as he can. His house is on the market, and he is busily seeking work across the border in Canada. For him, the re-election of President Bush was the last straw.
"I love the United States," he said as he stood on the Vancouver waterfront, staring toward the Coast Mountains, which was lost in a gray shroud. "I fought for it in Vietnam. It's a wrenching decision to think about leaving. But America is turning into a country very different from the one I grew up believing in."
""I don't want to participate in what this administration is doing here and around the world. Under Bush, the U.S. seems to be leading the pack as the world spirals down," said Melanie Redman, who hopes to move to Toronto. (Photo/Kevin P. Casey for The New York Times)
In the Niagara of liberal angst just after Mr. Bush's victory on Nov. 2, the Canadian government's immigration Web site reported an increase in inquiries from the United States to about 115,000 a day from 20,000. After three months, memories of the election have begun to recede. There has been an inauguration, even a State of the Union address.
Yet immigration lawyers say that Americans are not just making inquiries and that more are pursuing a move above the 49th parallel, fed up with a country they see drifting persistently to the right and abandoning the principles of tolerance, compassion and peaceful idealism they felt once defined the nation.
America is in no danger of emptying out. But even a small loss of residents, many of whom cite a deep sense of political despair, is a significant event in the life of a nation that thinks of itself as a place to escape to.
Firm numbers on potential émigrés are elusive.
"The number of U.S. citizens who are actually submitting Canadian immigration papers and making concrete plans is about three or four times higher than normal," said Linda Mark, an immigration lawyer in Vancouver.
Other immigration lawyers in Toronto, Montreal and Halifax said they had noticed a similar uptick, though most put the rise at closer to threefold.
"We're still not talking about a huge movement of people," said David Cohen, an immigration lawyer in Montreal. "In 2003, the last year where full statistics are available, there were something like 6,000 U.S. citizens who received permanent resident status in Canada. So even if we do go up threefold this year, we're only talking about 18,000 people."
Still, that is more than double the population of Gettysburg, Pa. "For every one who reacts to the Bush victory by moving to a new country, how many others are there still in America, feeling similarly disaffected but not quite willing to take such a drastic step?" Mr. Cohen asked.
It will be six months, at least, before the Canadian government has any hard numbers on how many people are really making the move.
Melanie Redman, 30, assistant director of the Epilepsy Foundation in Seattle, said she had put her Volvo up for sale and hoped to be living in Toronto by the summer. Ms. Redman and her Canadian boyfriend, a Web site designer for Canadian nonprofit companies, had been planning to move to New York, but after Nov. 2, they decided on Canada instead.
"I'm doing it," she said. "I don't want to participate in what this administration is doing here and around the world. Under Bush, the U.S. seems to be leading the pack as the world spirals down."
Ms. Redman intends to apply for a conjugal visa, which can be easier to get than the skilled worker visa required of most Americans. To do so, she must prove that she and her boyfriend have had a relationship for at least a year, so she has collected supporting paperwork, like love letters, to present to the Canadian government.
"I'm originally from a poor, lead-mining town in Missouri and I know a lot of the people there don't understand why I'm doing this," she said. "Even my family is pretty disappointed. And the fact is, it makes me pretty sad, too. But I just can't bear to pay taxes in the United States right now."
Compared with the other potential émigrés interviewed, Ms. Redman was far along in planning.
Mike Aves, 40, a financial planner in Palm Beach, Fla., where he has been active in the Young Democrats, said he was finding it almost impossible from that distance to land a job in Canada. "I've told my wife, I'd be willing to take a step down, socioeconomically, to move from white-collar work to a blue-collar job, if it would get us to Canada," he said.
Many of those interviewed said the idea of moving to Canada had been simmering in the backs of their minds for years, partly as a reaction to what they saw as a rightward drift in the country and partly as a desire to live in a place they see as more tolerant, pacific and, yes, liberal.
But for all, the re-election of Mr. Bush was decisive in their decision to take concrete steps.
"Not everybody is prepared to live their political values, but these are people who are," said Jason Mogus, an Internet entrepreneur in Vancouver whose Web company communicopia.net offers marketing services for progressive companies and nonprofit groups, and whose Web site at canadianalternative.com is often the first stop for Americans eager to learn about moving north.
"Immigration to Canada is not like packing your family in a car and moving across the state line," Mr. Mogus said. "It's a long process. It can take 18 months or even longer sometimes. And if you hire a lawyer to help you, it can cost thousands of dollars."
So Mr. Mogus said the response to the Web site, from all over the United States, had amazed him. Some are drawn by Canada's more tolerant attitude toward same-sex unions, he said, and there are a surprising number of middle-aged professionals.
"My wife and I have talked for a long time about perhaps retiring to a condo in downtown Vancouver," said Frederick Newmeyer, 61, a professor of linguistics at the University of Washington in Seattle. "But the election was the tipping point."
Since it may take all of the two years he has until retirement to get a permanent resident visa, Mr. Newmeyer said he and his wife had hired a lawyer and begun the paperwork.
Canadian officials decide on potential immigrants by awarding points for certain skills or attributes. Being 21 to 49 years old is worth 10 points, for instance. A bachelor's degree is worth 20, a master's 25, with up to 21 points for certain work experience and 24 points for being fluent in English and French. At the moment, 67 points are required to qualify for the visa.
Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, workers in certain jobs can also qualify for residency permits if they land a job in Canada.
Mr. Key has made several recent trips to scout for jobs in the Vancouver area. He thinks most Canadian employers would prefer to hire a Canadian.
Chris Mares, a recreation therapist in Albuquerque, said that he hoped to move to Canada in about a year, when he qualified for his pension, but that he could not do it without first landing a job.
"I put a bunch of applications in and filled out a bunch of forms and now I'm waiting to hear back," said Mr. Mares, 54. "But it's not easy. It's not like they open the door wide and say, 'Hey Americans, come on in.' "
Jerry Gorde may be taking the longest view.
"I'm on a 100-month plan," said Mr. Gorde, who runs Vatex, a company in Richmond, Va., that creates promotional campaigns for corporate clients.
A former civil rights marcher and antiwar protester, Mr. Gorde said he built his company in Virginia because the state was not one of America's liberal enclaves, hoping to spread progressive ideas in the heart of conservatism. He was once named the state's entrepreneur of the year.
"I think George Bush's re-election, in itself, is nothing compared to what happens, over the next 10 to 15 years, if he gets to make three or four appointments to the Supreme Court," Mr. Gorde said. "I foresee a much darker period in front of us."
Beginning now, Mr. Gorde plans to gradually shift his life from Richmond to one of the islands near Vancouver - buying a home, spending a little more time there each year, gradually extracting himself from his company in Virginia until, 100 months from now, his life will be Canadian.
"When I set my mind to something, I'm the most organized and driven person in the world," he said. "I have made this decision and I'm going to do it."
He knows that some who share his political views wonder why he does not stay in the United States and battle it out.
"I'm 53 years old, and I don't know if I have the energy to go out in the streets and organize again," Mr. Gorde said. "Or maybe it's just a matter of becoming a little bit spoiled at this point in my life."
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company