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What do Canadians think of Trump?

Thousand Islands, Canada Image copyright iStock

The USA's northern neighbour looks on the Republican candidate with a mixture of horror and fascination, says Bill Law - but sometimes cross-border friendships mean putting politics aside.

I have lived in the UK for 25 years but every summer I go back to Canada with my family. We have a cottage on the St Lawrence River, in a region of spectacular natural beauty called the Thousand Islands.

It's part of a summer community built in the 1880s on the sloping hills and the flats above a small bay. The place once had an abundance of butternut trees, now sadly diminished by a lethal pest.

But the trees gave the community its name: Butternut Bay. All the cottages share a large communal dock that juts out into the river.

The dock is the first place we head to once we have opened up the cottage. And the dock is where you see old friends, catch up on the news, barter a bit of gossip and slip easily back into the Bay groove.

And this year, gossip slipped easily into talk of politics. There was keen interest in the Brexit vote along the lines of: "How could you do it?"

But even Brexit took a back seat to what is going on just across the St Lawrence River in the good old USA.

The Bay is a mix of generations of families who have spent every summer here for decades, plus a few "newcomers" - that is, anybody who hasn't been coming for at least 50 years. Among the families are Americans from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida. All of the Americans save one say they are appalled and embarrassed by the Republican candidate for the presidency.


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And that one is Chip, or Chipper, a tough old ex-marine with a wonderful sense of humour.

At 75, he now boasts seven great-grandchildren. His family was one of the very first at the Bay, way back in 1885. And with all those offspring, it looks set to stay a good deal longer.

Over the years Chip has developed quite a belly, but one of my enduring delights is watching him do a perfect jack-knife dive off the board, slicing the water cleanly and coming up shaking his head and running his hand through his brushcut.

I just knew that Chip would be a Trump supporter - he's of working-class stock and a lifelong Republican - so I wasn't surprised when one of the other Americans, having bemoaned the state to which US politics has sunk, said: "Just don't mention Trump when Chip is around."

I had already pretty much decided that I wouldn't be talking about the Donald with him this year. Sometimes friendship is more important than politics.

And so it was that every time Chip came down to the dock, the alert went out not to talk Trump. And to be perfectly honest, it was a bit of a relief.

Canadians are obsessed by the rise of Trump - horrified and fascinated in equal measure by what is happening south of the border.

We've recently elected a very different kind of leader as our prime minister in the person of Justin Trudeau. Under his leadership, Canada took in 25,000 Syrian refugees while Trump was calling for the banning of all Muslims wanting to enter the US.

So we are perplexed and not a little anxious about the tone and the language of his bid for the presidency.

Not a day passes that the Canadian media don't analyse, bewail and condemn. Social media is full of outrage, laments and bitter jokes. We cannot, it seems, get enough of the Trumpster.

The obsession is not all that surprising. Years ago, Justin Trudeau's father Pierre, while he was prime minister, remarked that when the United States sneezes we get pneumonia.

Whatever happens in America affects Canada deeply and Trump's talk of ripping up Nafta - the longstanding free-trade deal that has been hugely beneficial to the Canadian economy - has sent ripples of near-panic through the marketplace.

Back at the Bay, my cousin, who is known for her famously dry wit, announced to the assembled throng, Chip not among us, that she was going to campaign for the building of a Northern Wall to keep out all those American refugees fleeing the Donald.

Image copyright Alamy
Image caption Butternuts are vulnerable to canker

Surveying the ageing American Butternuts - to be fair, all present were ageing Butternuts - she teased: "You guys will wreck our healthcare system."

As for Chip, I haven't spoken to him since the release of the video featuring Donald Trump's crude comments about women. Knowing him as I do I believe that he too has found them offensive.

Still, I doubt I'll ask him how he voted when I see him next summer.

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