QUADRA ISLAND, British Columbia — We've all heard the jokes about liberals from the blue states packing up and moving to Canada with the re-election of President Bush, but Lorraine Wright, 45, did just that.
"I found a country that is more reflective of my values," said Wright, who now runs an 11-room hotel and a tour company in this remote part of British Columbia. "It's just the notion that they have universal health care and gun control and no death penalty."
Wright, who has lived in Canada off and on for the past few years, went back to the States briefly to vote for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry on Nov. 2, and then the next day received her Canadian citizenship papers in the mail. The results of the election, she said, confirmed her choice to become a Canadian citizen.
She's not alone. South of the border in Bellingham, Wash., Charles Key, a 56-year-old Vietnam veteran, is planning his move to Canada.
"America no longer reflects my political and social values," said Key, whose ancestor Francis Scott Key wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Key is painfully aware of the irony. "The land of the free and the home of the brave always meant to me that America was supposed to stand for freedom and diversity and tolerance," he said. "And I don't think that it does anymore."
Canada laying out the welcome mat
Canadian immigration authorities say they won't know until early next year whether there has been a serious exodus of Americans heading north following the election.
But they point out that their official Web site has been getting a flood of hits since Nov. 2. Normal traffic is about 50,000 hits a day. On Nov. 3, it peaked at 180,000 and has been running above normal ever since.
Approximately 1 million Americans now live in Canada, and in recent years between 5,000 and 6,000 more have headed north annually. That's a relatively small number considering that Canada takes in 250,000 immigrants a year.
But in the last week alone, more than 300 people paid $25 apiece to attend seminars on Canadian immigration in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
"Bush has been very good for business," joked Canadian immigration lawyer Rudolph Kischer, one of the seminar hosts.
Among those attending were a number of gay couples, who are interested in Canada's legal and political efforts to legalize same-sex marriage at a time when 11 U.S. states have outlawed it. On Thursday, Canada's Supreme Court ruled the government may redefine marriage to include gay couples.
"Same-sex marriage is very important to us," said Bob Veseley, who showed up at the Seattle seminar with his domestic partner, Mike Teller.
"I just don't feel real welcomed here in the United States anymore," added Teller.
Tinge of anti-Americanism exists
And while Canada enjoys a reputation as a hospitable place for immigrants, there is a tinge of anti-Americanism here.
Last month, Calgary Sun columnist Ian Robinson blasted the blue state malcontents heading north, writing: "I hope I'm not alone in gently suggesting to those considering coming to Canada: Stay home, you pathetic whining maggots."
Lorraine Wright understands that there are those on both sides of the border who may find fault with expatriates like her. But she noted, "The great thing about America and Canada is the notion of freedom and pursuit of happiness."
"I found my dream in Canada," she said, surveying her waterfront property with its wooded shoreline.
Inviting a visiting NBC News team out for a tour of the waters off Quadra Island, Wright spotted a bald eagle perched on a rock off her port bow and pointed it out to her visitors.
She joked about how America's national bird may be contemplating a move to Canada, a place she says she intends to call home for the rest of her days.
George Lewis is an NBC News correspondent.