Somebody has to do something about the price differences in products between Canada and the U.S. After returning from a trip to Minneapolis, I was in the Bottineau Walmart store looking for monkey bread. No monkey Bread, no turkey, and no Trix breakfast cereal. And I bought the last bag of chicken breasts.
This is not a corner store, but rather America’s largest retailer.
Where did all the stuff go? It was like shopping in Russia in the late ’80s. The store looked like it had just been turned upside down and some shelves were even bare. I asked one of the Walmart employees what happened. Her simple answer as she shrugged: "Canadians. We can’t keep up. They changed the rules up there and we can’t keep stuff on the shelves."
I was angry. Angry because there was no monkey bread, but also angry that our political leaders cannot get prices in line with our neighbors to the south. It used to be, shoppers from Westman might make a two hour trip into Winnipeg, but as of June 1, it looks more and more like many are choosing to make the 90-minute trip south instead.
Everyone wants to buy local. Everyone should shop local. But I ask Joe Businessman this: You have two employees who do the same job. One will work for $25K per year, the other for $35K per year. Which one do you hire? Exactly.
Obviously when numbers are close, it’s less of an issue. Many things in the U.S. are now the same price in Canada, and believe me, it makes me happy. But from new cars to canned pasta, the gap in prices is still too big.
And in the state of Washington, there are so many shoppers from Canada flocking to the Bellingham Costsco, fans of the store have started a Facebook page, hoping the store will have a "American Customers Only" day where crowds aren’t quite so big. The big sellers: gas and food.
The page, named "Bellingham Costco needs a special time just for Americans," shows pictures of cars with B.C. plates taking up two parking spaces. It also has pictures and video of a packed store floor with a huge crowd hovering over sale items. One video shows the frantic scramble to buy milk after a crate of it is unloaded. There’s actually some funny Photoshop and cartoon spoof pictures poking fun at Canadians, who are portrayed as "people taking all our milk." So far the Facebook page has over 2,200 likes as dozens of residents support the "US Only Day".
The creator of the Facebook page wrote: "To our Canadian friends on here that think we hate you: You have to look at the root of the problem.
"Bellingham has laws that keep big box companies from expanding. The overcrowding in this small, slow-paced town has agitated people."
One person wrote on the Facebook wall: "Almost every time I go to a store I come very close to getting run over by an impatient Canadian. They don't want to stop and let you cross instead they accelerate to try and get in front of you then slam on the brakes and stop in front of you to turn down the row."
Another one wrote: "Pedestrians have the right of way in parking lots! Oh and by the way merging on the freeway YOU have to yield not the person already doing the speed limit."
On the other side of the fight is Dyanna Zimmer, who pointed out traffic isn’t just flowing south, it sometimes comes north too. She wrote: "You don't see any rude comments coming from Canadians about all the Americans coming to White Rock for affordable prescriptions and medical care."
The Bellingham Chamber of Commerce loves the influx of bargain-hunting Canucks in their city, telling the CBC that Canadian shoppers bring in tax dollars, and "without them the living situation in the city would be quite different." The Chamber said "In the last two years, sales tax generation has doubled or tripled the pace in the rest of the state, and it’s almost entirely because of the Canadians coming south."
A Costco spokesman said the store wanted to expand to take into account the extra customers from Canada but could not do so at its current site because there is not enough room. They also ruled out introducing opening times just for Americans. But a trip to the Bellingham Costco, will not only mean you’ll see low prices. You’ll also see a police presence. An officer is now on site two days a week to control the crowds in the parking lot at the store during busy periods.
Why is it as a Canadian shopper I feel I’m being taken for granted? American shoppers are mad at me, as I provide extra tax dollars for their city, and an influx of additional money to help their towns, while on our side of the border businesses are upset at consumers who are often left with little choice, but to jump in a car and make the obvious decision to save money, something businesses themselves do each and every day.
It’s one thing to go and guy Trix breakfast because we don’t have it in Canada, but it’s quite another to buy a grocery item, vehicle or electronics item often at 10-30 per cent less that what the exact same item in Canada costs.
But make no mistake. Duty-free shopping is coming. Just last month Finance Minister Jim Flaherty had to say "No" to U.S. Congressman Bill Owens after he asked Canada to match U.S. duty exemptions for Americans crossing the border for day trips.
U.S. citizens who come here for just a few hours get their first $200 in purchases tax free.
We don’t get that now, but not ever? I think not. In June, Ottawa followed through on a promise to raise exemption rates for Canadian cross-border shoppers from $50 to $200 for trips lasting between 24 and 48 hours, and from $400 to $800 for trips over 48 hours.
But there was no change on the duty-free allowance for day trips. That remains at zero. For now.
Canadian business, please go on shopping trips for the product you sell. And get in front of this parade south of the border. Canadian and apparently American shoppers would be happier to spend their money at home.
JOKES THIS WEEK
As Vancouver was hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics, here are some silly questions that were asked by people from all over the world. Believe it or not, these questions about Canada were posted on an International Tourism Web site.
Q: Will I be able to see Polar Bears in the street? (USA)
A: Depends on how much you’ve been drinking.
Q: I want to walk from Vancouver to Toronto. Can I follow the railroad tracks? (Sweden)
A: Sure, it's only 4,000 miles, take lots of water.
Q: Which direction is North in Canada? (USA)
Q: Can I bring cutlery into Canada? (England)
A: Why? Just use your fingers like we do.
Q: Do you have perfume in Canada? (Germany)
A: No, WE don’t stink.
Q: Do you celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada? (USA)
A: Only at Thanksgiving.
Q: Is milk available in Canada all year round? (Germany)
A: No, we are a peaceful civilization of vegan hunter/gatherers. Milk is illegal.
Q: Will I be able to speak English most places I go? (USA)
A: Yes, but you will have to learn it first.
- Carla Betteridge Stevenson
- Tammy Baker
- Sheldon Parrott
- Deanna Joyce
- Daniel Woloshyn
- Shelbii Rae Siioux
- Addy Burtt
- Karen Hiebert
- Jocelyn Teneycke
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 18, 2012