Calabrese works at 101.9 The Giant, a pop radio station on Cape Breton Island, a rocky outcrop at the northern tip of Nova Scotia. The island’s population was about 136,000 in 2011, but that number has been steadily plummeting, in part because the island’s steel mill closed a decade and a half ago. “Our population is aging, and it’s shrinking by about 1,000 people every year,” Calabrese tells Rolling Stone. “It’s projected to do that for the next 20 years unless it can get turned around.”
Calabrese and his wife have been following the U.S. election with a keen interest, and they think it could hold the key to reversing Cape Breton’s fortunes. “There’s always a group, mostly Democrats, who threaten to move to Canada if so-and-so is elected,” Calabrese says. “This year you may hear that more than ever, so we wanted to get out in front of it, and let those people know, ‘Hey! Here’s your chance. We will welcome you with open arms.'”
The difference this year, of course, is Donald Trump — the most disliked candidate of either major party. Over the course of his campaign, Trump has alienated vast swaths of individuals: Mexicans, black Americans, Muslims, women. And these are the folks Calabrese is targeting.
In Cape Breton, he says, “we don’t care about your religion, we don’t care about your gender, how you identify, your orientation, your race. We need people who want to make a new life in a peaceful place.”
For those unfamiliar with Cape Breton, Calabrese has made a website enumerating the island’s many virtues; it’s a place where “women are legally able to choose an abortion, Muslim people can roam freely, and the only ‘walls’ are holding up the roofs of our extremely affordable houses.”
But that’s not all. On Cape Breton — which Calabrese notes is often ranked among the world’s most beautiful islands — “health care is free, you know your neighbours and they look out for you, and nobody has a hand gun!”
Calabrese launched the website “at supper time” last Monday, and since then the responses have been rolling in. “I’d get one every half hour or 25 minutes, and I was answering them myself. My brother and wife started helping when it picked up, and we got to a point where they were coming every few seconds,” he says.
Among the notes they’ve gotten:
“You guys are geniuses. How could we actually do it, visa-wise?”
“Can you send me more info on relocating?”
“You had us at move to Cape Breton island. Trump or no Trump. Could you please send us more information? Thank you.”
When the volume became too much for him and his family to handle, Calabrese passed the job on to the local tourism board.
By his count, there were more than 2,000 inquiries in the first three days. “I’d say about 90 percent of them are genuine inquiries about making a life in Cape Breton, and a lot of them say regardless of who wins.” Most were anxious to escape Trump, but several, he says, feared a Hillary Clinton presidency.
Calabrese, for his part, insists he’s not anti-Trump. Rather, he says, “our way of life is opposite of the things he says in his campaign.”
“We just thought it would be a good opportunity to let people know: If you’re nervous about the possibility of Trump being president… this is how it is here,” Calabrese says. “We would really love to see ya.”Watch highlights from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign so far.