Lynden Calling

We Used to Be the Canadians

Good neighborliness isn't always a bargain.

By 12.11.13

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LYNDEN, Washington — Canadians at the border crossings in the northwestern-most county of the continental United States just keep on coming.

According Western Washington University’s Border Policy Research Institute, about 300,000 Canadian-driven cars crossed over the border from British Columbia into Whatcom County this July to shop and buy cheap American gas. That was about four times as many bargain hunters as the BPRI researchers found when last they surveyed traffic in July 2007

Many, many locals are not happy about this, as I chronicled last column.

Retailers are happy to have the business but are wary about too greatly expand their existing capacity, for fear that the Loonie-Dollar exchange rate might dramatically change and leave them holding the proverbial overinflated bag.

Capacity will increase if the peaceful invasion continues. In the meantime, the locals and the Caunckleheads compete for resources: for milk in supermarkets, which have only so much refrigeration capacity; for school clothes; for Christmas bargains; for gas; for alcohol, whose after-tax price in BC is practically a human rights violation.

British Columbians come here not just because the exchange rate is almost at parity but because their prices are so much higher due to taxes and protective tariffs. The trend of Canadians buying in America “is only likely to grow in the near future,” reported the Financial Post earlier this year.

The paper noted Ottawa’s Conservative Party-controlled government, which occasionally makes noises about addressing the tariff problem, in practice makes the situation worse. Canada’s federal government 2013 budget added “new tariffs to be imposed on goods entering Canada from 70 different countries, costing Canadian consumers an estimated $330-million [Canadian] more each year in retail prices.”

So of course Canadians come to shop here and of course their presence is going to temporarily bid up the price of goods for locals. A lot more money chasing a slowly growing supply of goods will have that effect.

The average price for a liter of gas in BC is about $1.23 Canadian. Converting into non-commie weights and measures and accounting for the exchange rate, that’s about $4.36 a gallon, or more than a buck higher than the current average price of gas in Washington state.

Stations that cater to Canadians, right near borders or close to the I-5 artery, can get away with charging 15 or 20 cents more than the average per gallon of gas. Locals learn to avoid those and dodge the “Canadian tax,” but we likely all pay a bit more for our petroleum.

For my part, I feel sorry (pronounced “sooory”) for our Canadian neighbors, but not so much that I don’t want to scream when I end up behind British Columbians in line and they start arguing with the cashier over the exchange rate.

I feel sorry for them for a two reasons.

One, because they live in a country that taxes the bejeezus out of them and are being squeezed economically by a Vancouver real estate bubble.

Two, because I went to college in Canada and remember what it was like when the exchange rate was on the other foot.

That’s right, we used to be the Canadians.

Americans in great numbers used to stomp around BC, flush with cash, clueless about the exchange rate, the traffic laws and so many other things. When I brought friends north of the border, I constantly had to shush them when they started ragging on Canadians — in Canada!

In my experience, British Columbians were remarkably good sports about this.

I once got the family minivan hung up on the bumper of a car in a BC mall parking lot. It didn’t cause serious damage, so the mall guards leaned on the kid who owned the car, who worked at the mall A&W, to take the few dollars Canadian I had in my pocket and let that be the end of it.

Before I took off, the guards said don’t be a stranger. So long as I wasn’t being belligerent — and I wasn’t — they wanted my patronage and my dollars.

Even if my parking skills left something to be desired.

Somehow, I don’t see many American mall cops doing the same for wayward Canadians.

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About the Author
Jeremy Lott is an editor of rare.us.