Moving to Canada after American election is not undemocratic

By Christopher Cotton, Queen’s University

The Globe and Mail recently published an article arguing that it is undemocratic for Americans to move to Canada if Donald Trump is elected president. In the article, Jonathan Zimmerman, a history of education professor, argues that saying you’ll move to Canada if Trump wins is like saying democracy is “only a good thing if your side comes out on top,” akin to Trump accepting the outcome of the election only if he wins.

This is silly. And not just because victory is seemingly out of reach for Trump, who currently has only a 13.8% chance of winning election according to recent analysis.

Moving to Canada following a Trump victory, or a Clinton victory, is what economists and political scientists call “voting with your feet.” The idea is that people who are not happy with the combination of housing prices, amenities and public policy in one political jurisdiction will move to another jurisdiction offering a combination more to their liking.

There are potential efficiency gains from people voting with their feet, as people sort into communities that share their preferences for public policy and their willingness to pay for community amenities, such as the natural environment, and quality schools and healthcare.

For example, a family with young children may favor higher property taxes to fund the local schools. But, if they live in a community dominated by empty nesters, a referendum increasing local taxes and public school funding is likely to fail. Following a failed referendum vote, the young family may decide to move to a new community where the politics are dominated by others who share their preferences.

According to Zimmerman’s argument, the family with young kids should stay in their initial community, even though they are unhappy with the policies that are being enacted, and even though there are other communities where they would be more happy. According to Zimmerman’s logic, the young family would be giving up on democracy if they were to move to a new community where policy was more on line with their preferences.

But, this isn’t the case. The family isn’t giving up on democracy. They are giving up on one community, in favor of another community more to their liking. They are casting a vote (with their feet) for one local democratic system over another.

Someone who decides to move to Canada following a Trump victory is making a similar choice, just on a larger scale.

In Canada nearly 40% of people are first or second generation immigrants. This means that many of us moved to Canada ourselves or had parents who did so. We moved here because Canada, more so than the places from which we came, offered a better life for us or our families, whether it was better career options, natural resources, communities, or opportunities for our children.

Some of us moved here from non-democratic countries. Others moved from democratic countries, including India, the US and the UK. When we moved here, we were not giving up on democracy, Zimmerman’s logic suggests. Rather, we were voting with our feet in favor of Canadian democracy.