California Forum

Canadians love the California desert. Why not let them have it, eh?

Let’s give the Coachella Valley to Canada.

After all, Canadians already rule the desert in winter.

Canadian snowbirds love Palm Springs because it’s a shorter flight than Maui and because it offers more culture – the international film festival, Modernism Week, the Coachella music festivals – than Phoenix.

Over time, the desert has developed a Canadian-friendly infrastructure of restaurants and country clubs. The Canadian Club of the Desert, founded in 1982, holds monthly breakfast forums “sharing experiences and ideas concerning issues of importance to Canadians.”

The Great Recession accelerated this Canadianization of the California Desert. In 2008 the Canadian dollar was at all-time highs just as California real estate was in freefall – allowing Canadians to snap up properties cheaply. Early in this decade, Canadians accounted for one-quarter of home purchases in the desert.

And housing is just one form of Canadian stimulus. Canada is responsible for an estimated 450,000 visitors annually; the Canadian government has taken credit for tripling the population during winter. Palm Springs International Airport boasts direct service to Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg.

The Canadian Invasion has stirred minor resentments. Restaurant servers say they could tip better. Slower traffic is blamed on the strange Canadian proclivity for obeying posted speeds.

But the biggest problem with Coachella’s Canadianization is that it should be bigger.

The Coachella Valley could get even more of a boost if more Canadians could visit more, buy more homes, and stay longer. But Canadians are welcome here only part-time. Our federal government imposes its complicated tax system on you if you spend too much time here.

While the details are complex, many Canadians in Coachella limit themselves to just 182 days a year. Spend 183 days here – half the year – and you may be considered a U.S. “resident alien” and forced to pay U.S. taxes on all your global income.

This hurts California; our Canadian visitors and part-time residents pay state and local taxes, while using little in services.

A Canadian couple who split their time between Indio and British Columbia (I am not naming them to spare them federal government hassles) wonder why they can’t stay longer. They have come to the Coachella Valley every year since 1984, and have owned homes here since 2003.

“We are welcome here for 182 days, then we become ‘alien,’ and must depart,” they said. “We can own property but not weapons. We can pay every tax but not vote …. We commit no crimes. We buy media but seldom appear in it. We are a potential resource, never a threat.”

Yes, the Canadian dollar’s decline has led to about 10 percent less Canadian spending in Coachella recently. The California housing shortage has also made buying here harder. (Still, median home prices in the desert are half of those of Vancouver and Toronto.)

But the Canadians still come – and we would benefit if they stayed longer. Imagine if federal law were changed to allow Canadians to spend nine months a year in California without triggering U.S. residency rules and taxes. That would be 50 percent more time, and more spending and sales taxes from Canadians.

Could this happen? The federal government is generally hostile to policies that benefit California. But Congressional Republicans like tax reform, and President Donald Trump has indicated a preference for immigrants from wealthier and whiter countries like Canada.

And if the feds won’t make things easier for Canadians in California, maybe the state could step in.

Perhaps the desert heart is getting to me, but I wonder if California might just deed the Coachella Valley to Canada. Not only would we get more Canadians, we’d also get insurance: If the U.S. government escalates its war against California, we’d only have to drive to Palm Springs to request asylum.

A Canada colony in California might not be paradise. But it sounds pretty good, eh?

Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square. He can be contacted at