Wanted: Happy people to move to Canada

Rural area revises strategy that wooed non-Bush supporters

The South Kootenay region of British Columbia hopes to see some American entrepreneurs move there, but officials have backed away from a marketing campaign apparently aimed at people disenchanted with the Bush administration.

Just after the November election, the Trail, British Columbia-based Community Futures Development Corp. ran ads in several U.S. alternative weeklies, including Willamette Week, that invited readers to 'Escape the Madness. Visit. Relocate. Immigrate.' The ads referred readers to www.southkootenay.com for more information.

The economic development group's Immigration Pilot Project coordinator, Jim Wood, told Vancouver CBC radio on Nov. 19 that the ads were aimed at 'folks that are considering a lifestyle change, urban refugees moving to a really creative area like the Kootenays with lots of opportunities.' He also was quoted in a story in Willamette Week headlined 'Tired of the U.S., Eh?'

But the campaign apparently hit a sour note at home. Wood, saying only, 'I'm living in interesting times,' last week referred a call from a reporter to his boss, Ian Thomas, who said 'the direction that the previous stories went down there wasn't where we wanted to go with it at all.'

Trail's two-term mayor, Dieter Bogs, was even more forthright. 'We're not seeking disenfranchised, unhappy Americans; we don't want people like that. We want happy people É people who want the kind of lifestyle, the kind of community we have here.'

As to so-called Bush refugees, 'If they meet the requirements of Canadian immigration policy, we're certainly not going to turn them down,' he said.

In a story in the daily Trail Times newspaper, Wood said the immigration pilot project was targeting business entrepreneurs from Australia and the United States, 'particularly those familiar with tourism infrastructure and resort development.'

Trail, a city of about 8,000 on the Columbia River about 200 miles north of Spokane, is the biggest town in the South Kootenay region, which has a total population of about 20,000. The leading employer is Teck Cominco, whose lead and zinc smelter in Trail employs 1,500 people.

The next biggest city, Rossland, is just a few miles from Trail. It's a quaint former mining town at a 3,400-foot elevation that calls itself 'Canada's Alpine city,' in part because of nearby Red Mountain ski area, famed for its steep slopes and deep powder.

Both cities are only a short distance from the U.S. border and maintain close ties with cities in eastern Washington.

'Spokane is our gateway on the world,' with the closest major airport, Community Futures' Thomas said. By contrast, Kelowna, British Columbia, is 3 1/2 hours to the north, and Vancouver is eight hours to the west.

Like rural areas in eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon, he said, the South Kootenay needs new residents. 'Within 10 years the trend will be negative, unless we have significant immigration,' he said. 'When people do move to Canada, they move to Vancouver or Toronto. They don't move here.'

About 250,000 people immigrate to Canada annually, where every sixth person is an immigrant. At any given time, according to the government, there are some 400,000 to 500,000 applications for immigration in process.

Community Futures maintains the South Kootenay Web site, which offers information about the region and also explains the various ways for immigrants to come into Canada. 'We're getting lots of uptake, for sure, on our Web site,' Thomas said.

It can take a couple of years to become a Canadian citizen, and immigrants have two basic paths, either as business immigrants, by bringing in CDN $600,000 along with the ability to start a business and employ Canadians, or as skilled workers with a good education Ñ a medical doctor, for example.

'As with any government, the red tape is a little onerous,' Thomas admitted. 'It's not that we can shortcut it, but we can help people through it a little bit, maybe point them toward further expertise.'

So what's the attraction? 'Recreation and lifestyle,' he said. Besides skiing, Rossland is famed for mountain biking; hiking, camping and other outdoor recreation opportunities abound as well.

'Resource communities in Canada, like in the U.S., have had a pretty difficult time in the last few years,' the mayor said. 'We're working hard at trying to reinvent ourselves.'

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