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Bob Booth is a Realtor in White Rock, British Columbia. He has an MFA degree in creative writing from Goddard College and was an editor and publisher of a weekly newspaper in rural Georgia. He has spent many summers in Maine.
Avid hockey fans know we are nearing the NHL trading deadline, when each team gets creative, pondering a final deal that might improve its prospects for a postseason run.
This year, however, I suggest we broaden our focus toward a bigger swap, one that could ease the agony of hundreds of our neighbors, correct a long standing geographic anomaly, and show the world how sovereign borders can be adjusted peacefully.
Campobello Island is a Canadian community of about 800 people that lies off the southwestern coast of New Brunswick, linked to Canada only by a seasonal ferry that normally stops running at the end of September. Its daily lifeline to the mainland is its only bridge, connecting the Island not to Canada, but to the town of Lubec, Maine.
The bridge — the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Bridge -– is named for the former US president, whose family had a summer home there for many years. For more than six decades, it has been the only permanent link for islanders to the mainland, then requiring an hour’s drive through the states to get to Canada. For many years, residents have been begging in vain for a year-round ferry link. Their pleas to the New Brunswick government essentially have met with this response: “You already have a bridge,” even though it’s to another country.
Justin Tinker, chair of the Campobello Year-Round Ferry Committee, has said that the community’s viability as a whole is “dangerously close to circling the drain.”
The pandemic led to widespread economic pain, exposing the risk of reliance on another country for basics like grocery deliveries, mail and medical services. The lack of a year-round ferry keeps the Island disconnected from the rest of Canada, causing Campobello’s population to dwindle. Residents need a passport to get to the hospital. Campobello has lost its only bank, police detachment and government road maintenance garage, all of which have been linked to the lack of access to the rest of Canada.
It sounds as though Campobello might be ready for a change of address. But how could that happen? What could the US offer Canada in return? Here’s an idea for a fair trade:
Point Roberts, Washington, dangles off Canada like the uvula on the back of your throat. It would be a lot healthier if formally connected to the body of British Columbia. The little American peninsula is similar in size to Campobello. Its only connection to land is a road to Tsawwassen, British Columbia — another case of a rural area accessible to its country by land only through another country.
Created by a US-United Kingdom deal that drew the border through the 49th parallel in 1846, Point Roberts is an unincorporated adjunct to Washington’s Whatcom County. The population of full-time residents has dropped during the pandemic from 1,200 to 800. Some of its few businesses have closed and most of the rest are barely hanging on.
To put things in perspective, people living in Point Roberts have only one place to turn for food, an independently owned grocer, where business plunged 90 percent at the depth of the pandemic, before recovering slightly recently. It still has a long way to go to reach full recovery.
Canadians own roughly 75 percent of all private real estate on the Point. Gas stations there list prices in metric liters for Canadians. Businesses rely on Canadians, as the local population of 800 normally multiplies five times on summer weekends, when visitors drop in from Vancouver.
So, Point Roberts is really more Canadian than American, while Campobello is literally attached to the US and not Canada. Why not cure the shared misery of these two communities by trading Campobello Island to the US for Point Roberts, even up? Many residents of both areas are already dual citizens. To ease the transition, dual citizenship should be offered to all permanent residents of each community, as of a certain date.
Of course, this type of trade involves an international treaty, making it a little more — OK, a lot more — complicated than swapping a veteran hockey player for some promising prospects. So, let’s get the ball rolling now, eh? It’s a win-win deal that deserves to happen.