Americans haven’t lost political identity in Canada

Mary Murphy, American-born blogger who has lived in Canada for 41 years. Photo courtesy of Mary Murphy

Mary Murphy, 64, is an American-born blogger who writes about the experiences of Americans in Canada. She has lived in British Columbia for 41 years, but has yet to obtain her Canadian citizenship. Despite her lengthy residency in Canada, she does not fully distinguish herself as either Canadian or American. However, for Murphy, like a lot of Americans living north of the 49th parallel, American issues and politics remain an important part of their lives.

“I will always, in some fundamental way, continue to be American. The U.S. shaped my development as a human being in ways I can’t alter, even if I wished to,” says Murphy.

In a 2006 census, Statistics Canada estimated that five per cent of Canadian citizens born outside of Canada are from the U.S. Similarly, B.C. Stats also reports that six and a half per cent of B.C immigrants came from North or Central America.

Although there is no data available on how many Americans in Canada voted in the recent presidential elections, Maureen Harwood, Chair of the Vancouver Chapter of Democrats Abroad, estimated a turnout of around 300 people at an election night party they hosted in early November. She says there were also other gatherings at the University of British Columbia (UBC), city hall, downtown and at the U.S. consul-general’s.

Harwood indicates the relative ease of absentee balloting, especially for mainland voters now being faced with stringent voter ID laws restricting access to voting. Compared to 20 years ago, she notes that opportunities for political participation and information on overseas voting in their home country are now readily available online.

She points out that many of the Democrats Abroad members, including herself, have dual citizenship, and some members have ties to local political parties, such as the New Democratic Party or the city council.

“People who are politically motivated tend to be motivated on both sides of the border, with both sets of issues,” says Harwood.

This includes Murphy. She follows Canadian politics closely, even though she can’t vote. She feels that for a distinct group of immigrants who can’t be identified by neighbourhood or last name, there has been no effort to appeal to Americans in Canada as ethnic voters, unlike the Indo- or Chinese-Canadians, for example.

Although she has recently come to realize her preference for the Canadian approach to dealing with issues, Murphy maintains that a person’s sense of identity will always be an essential part of who they are. So when it comes time for Murphy to cast her ballot in the U.S. she does so through absentee voting, which she says was easier for her than for those who had to line up at the polls for the presidential election earlier this month.

Paul Quirk, director of the U.S. Studies program at UBC. Photo courtesy of Paul Quirk

Paul Quirk, a dual American-Canadian citizen and Director of the U.S. Studies Program at UBC, explains that participation in U.S. politics might vary because voters participate through their registered county and absentee voting differs from state to state.

He says that he follows U.S. politics by being able to access the same resources and information here as he had when he was living in the U.S.

In Quirk’s opinion, it is reasonable for some groups of people, such as visible minority groups, to reflect on what category they belong to and the state of their status in society. Personally, however, he doesn’t spend a lot of time contemplating what it means to be an American in Canada and believes that there’s not much difference between Americans and Canadians.

Quirk says that Americans place a higher value on individualism and freedom of expression than Canadians, but he maintains that those values are not markers for American identity.

“I don’t think of that as me having an identity that values those things. It’s just that I value those things,” he says.

Nevertheless, Murphy indicates that there are a number of American-born political activists in Canada.

“As Americans who live in Canada, we have a unique perspective on two different types of government, and for many that translates into political awareness and possibly action,” says Murphy.