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Voters in a tiny U.S. enclave near Vancouver brace for Tuesday’s election

Cut off from America, but not from the campaign

While some say the polarizing divisions haven't been as bad in Point Roberts, they worry about the future of their country, report Ian Bailey and Mychaylo Prystupa

Mark Robbins from the Taxpayers association in Point Roberts, Wash

Mark Robbins from the Taxpayers association in Point Roberts, Wash

John Lehmann/For The Globe and Mail

Mark Robbins is feeling the tension as Tuesday's U.S. presidential election looms. Not even isolated Point Roberts, Wash., a piece of America cut off from the rest of America, has escaped the feisty debate.

"I'll either be celebrating or slitting my throat," the self-described 69-year-old progressive says wryly when asked about what he'll do when the outcome becomes clear.

He's reserving the second option for a Donald Trump victory.

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Mr. Robbins, head of the non-partisan taxpayers association in this 13-square-kilometre U.S. enclave on the southern end of the Lower Mainland, has come around to supporting Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. She has won his support, although he's against family dynasties in politics and has doubts about Ms. Clinton's foreign-policy instincts.

But Mr. Robbins, who earlier liked Senator Bernie Sanders's policies, says he won't vote for Mr. Trump. "I don't think Trump is the change I can support, so I am going to vote for Clinton," he says.

"I'm not afraid of [Ms. Clinton] being president. And Trump to me is such a bundle of unknowns, maybe deplorables," quips Mr. Robbins, who has lived in Point Roberts for 11 years since settling on the area as a retirement home after a career in public health.

As British Columbians watch the U.S. election from afar, their closest American neighbours in Point Roberts, which exists literally as a piece of the Lower Mainland, are actually casting ballots. The community, created in the mid-19th century when the 49th parallel was run through the area, officially has 1,008 voters registered.

Mr. Robbins says the presidential election hasn't been that big an issue here.

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There are few visible signs. Politics in Point Roberts is "mostly local," Mr. Robbins says, noting that the biggest issue on election day is whether residents will vote to allow a special tax to raise $300,000 to finish renovating an old building as a new community library.

"I think Point Roberts is a very unusual place and a unique place, but I am not sure that makes the way the election plays out here different," he says.

Voting records suggest that the Democrats have an edge in Point Roberts, which is officially part of Washington State's Whatcom County. In 2000, Democrats won 72 per cent of the vote. In the last election, in 2012, the Democratic ticket won 69 per cent of the vote.

(Among Republicans in Point Roberts, Mr. Trump was the favoured candidate among would-be presidential nominees. He won 89 per cent of the vote in the 2016 Republican primary.)

The existence of Point Roberts, with the need to answer to border guards to enter or leave, puts a twist on former prime minister Pierre Trudeau's 1969 statement about how the United States was an elephant to the mouse that is Canada. Here, Canada, looming to the north, is the elephant and Point Roberts the mouse.

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Point Roberts, by the numbers

Population in the 2010 census
Median age, compared with 37.4 across the U.S.
Median income, in U.S. dollars, compared with $53,482 across the country
Percentage of population not born in the United States, compared with 13.3 per cent across the U.S.

While Mr. Robbins plays down the election as a point of debate, some remain troubled by its implications.

"This country is very close, in my humble opinion, to almost a civil war," says 64-year-old George Gibson, pausing in the midst of a regular 6.5-kilometre run to talk politics by the side of the road. "Either way it goes, there's going to be some serious unrest. That's where we are as far as I can tell."

Mr. Gibson, who has lived in Point Roberts for six months – "I'm a newbie" – after transferring here as part of his civil-service job, says the United States has become so polarized that he cannot see it coming back together as one nation.

"People go to Thanksgiving dinners now and they can't even be civil with each other."

Despite the support for the Democrats, Republican caucus leader Shelley Damewood has high hopes for the election. She says newcomers have moved into Point Roberts, possibly swinging the vote toward Mr. Trump.

Ms. Damewood, who has lived in Point Roberts since 1976, says she likes Mr. Trump's credentials as a political outsider – a quality that may help him break the cycle of influence that has been taking the United States in the wrong direction.

But Virginia Lester, Point Roberts caucus leader for the Democrats, says Ms. Clinton has worked throughout her career for the benefit of all Americans.

As for Mr. Trump?

"I watched The Apprentice a few times and found that the way he treated people on that television show was really wicked," says Ms. Lester, 83.

Regardless of who wins, Mr. Robbins has concerns about the future of America.

"I don't think we're heading for civil war, but I do think we're, unfortunately almost inevitably, heading for a continuation of the gridlock and hyper-partisanship that we've had," he says.

North of the border

British Columbians don't get to vote in the U.S. election although the results are likely to have a major impact on varied issues germane to the province. Here are a few ways the outcome of Tuesday's vote could affect B.C.:

Softwood lumber and trade

A section of forest is harvested by loggers near Youbou, B.C.

A section of forest is harvested by loggers near Youbou, B.C.

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

A 2006 agreement to manage the trade of softwood lumber, which is crucial to the B.C. economy, expired in October of last year, and so far there is no replacement. While the future of the softwood agreement hasn't factored significantly in the campaign, the larger issue of trade has – with Donald Trump railing against the North American free-trade agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Iain Black, president of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, says his members have been "increasingly concerned" about Mr. Trump's anti-trade rhetoric.

"We appreciate, with the greatest of respect, the rhetoric that goes with the political discourse leading up to an election, but there are some very big kid, meaningful, material impacts to those types of statements if they were actually to come to fruition," Mr. Black said in an interview.

Gordon Giffin, former U.S. president Bill Clinton's ambassador to Canada, said he expects the United States will work through the softwood issue regardless of who ends up as president. That said, he added that it is unclear whether a Trump presidency could attract top-notch talent to work out the details.

Mr. Giffin, who is forthright in declaring his expectation that Ms. Clinton will win, said Mr. Trump's views sound more protectionist than those of his Democratic rival.

"Nobody knows what Donald Trump would do because he hasn't expressed a consistent, coherent perspective on any policy issues, and he has ricocheted from very protectionist, isolationist kinds of rhetoric to 'I can do deals with anyone in the world' rhetoric."

The environment

A farm is surrounded by morning mist at dawn outside of Chilliwack, B.C.

A farm is surrounded by morning mist at dawn outside of Chilliwack, B.C.

Andy Clark/REUTERS

Jason Colby, a University of Victoria historian, said he expects a Trump presidency would complicate environmental issues that are important to British Columbians.

He cited efforts to renegotiate the Columbia Treaty, which was signed in 1964 and provides a framework for managing the Columbia River, spanning B.C. and the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

"I can't imagine that continuing in any sort of copacetic way with a Trump presidency," Dr. Colby said although he added that it would be tricky for Ms. Clinton as well, given the drive to protect U.S. interests.

The border

Canadian border agents at work on the Canadian border at the Peace Arch Crossing in Surrey, B.C.

Canadian border agents at work on the Canadian border at the Peace Arch Crossing in Surrey, B.C.

Simon Hayter/For The Globe and Mail

Another concern is a "thickening" of the Canadian-U.S. border under a Trump presidency that could complicate things for Canadian professionals who need to spend time in the United States, the board of trade's Mr. Black said.

While Mr. Trump has talked about a wall between Mexico and the United States, the board fears a "spillover" into relations with Canada although Mr. Trump has been more focused on the southern U.S. border than the Canadian border.

"We use the word 'alarmed' if discussing the potential of a Donald Trump presidency," Mr. Black said.

"Even when he mentions things like our health-care system, he does so on such a misinformed or uniformed basis that it's very disconcerting."

Getting along

B.C Premier Christy Clark on Sept. 19, 2016.

B.C Premier Christy Clark on Sept. 19, 2016.

Ben Nelms/For The Globe and Mail

Dr. Colby, the historian from the University of Victoria, said a Trump administration might not forget Premier Christy Clark's ongoing criticism of the Republican candidate.

In October, Ms. Clark said there was no way to defend Mr. Trump, given his controversial remarks about women. "In fact, everybody should be condemning it," she said in a newspaper interview.

"[Mr. Trump] has shown he is an extraordinarily vindictive person," Dr. Colby said.

Mr. Giffin, the former ambassador, says he doubts that Ms. Clark has much to worry about, given that he expects Ms. Clinton to win the election.

"The next president of the United States will agree with the Premier."

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