Canadian shoppers still come, despite trade disagreement

An Ontario license plate is seen in the parking lot of Walmart in Ogdensburg Tuesday. (Photo — Christopher Lenney, Watertown Daily Times)

OGDENSBURG — Despite the recent disagreement between President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over international trade, there appeared to be no shortage of Canadian shoppers in Ogdensburg on Tuesday.

A dozen cars sporting Canadian license plates could be seen in the parking lots of Walmart and Price Chopper. Shoppers spoken to said they have been crossing the southern border for years to spend their Canadian dollars and will continue to do so, despite disagreements over trade between Ottawa and Washington.

And the reason is a no-brainer to most. It’s all about the prices.

“I’m not a big fan of the Canadian pricing system,” said Gary Bissonette, a retired sales and marketing manager from Ottawa. “Particularly dairy and poultry and pork. We’ve got a pricing board for everything: a dairy board, a poultry board. The prices are fixed, and it’s the Canadian taxpayers who subsidize it all.”

As an example, Bissonette said he had just purchased a carton of 18 eggs at Walmart in Ogdensburg for $1.88.

“I can’t buy 12 for $2.50 in Canada,” he said.

And then there is the hefty cost of milk in Canada.

“Our dairy farmers are heavily subsidized and the prices fixed,” Bissonette said. “If they produce too much, they just dump it. They get paid the same regardless.”

Bissonette said back home in Canada it costs him about $2.95 for a quart of milk.

“I just bought a gallon here for $1.77,” he said. “That’s a big difference.”

Even factoring in the Canadian exchange, the cost of gas and the international bridge toll, he and his wife still find savings.

“We’re going to Price Chopper now,” said Lynn Bissonette. “The coffee is a lot cheaper here, too. We always find something.”

Sadly, she said, the couple can’t stock up on booze.

“It kills us to walk by the beer cooler and look at the prices,” she said.

A few cars away, another Canadian who gave her name only as Cecilia M., said she and her husband also plan to keep shopping in the states. She said home is “just northeast of Toronto,” and Ogdensburg is not the only state-side shopping destination that they frequent.

“We go to Watertown, too,” she said. “The Ramada Inn there has taken Canadian money at par for years. Sometimes we go there, other times here.”

Cecilia said she is unsure of the long-term results of a lingering trade dispute between Canada and the United States. At present, she said they’ll keep coming.

“I’m on the fence about what it all means,” she said. “I’ll have to wait and see. But we’re planning on coming for years.”

Laura Pearson, executive director of the Greater Ogdensburg Chamber of Commerce, said she is pleased to know that Canadians are still crossing the border and described Ogdensburg as having a long history of welcoming its neighbors to the north.

“We work together to build cross-border tourism with our friends in Brockville, Prescott and South Grenville, just to name a few,” Ms. Pearson said.

To show the continued support, Pearson said chamber officials accepted Canadian money at par at the recent Car-B-Que event held on June 9 and will continue to accept Canadian money at par at upcoming chamber events including Ogtoberfest on Oct. 6 and the Thanksgiving Craft Show Nov. 17.

Pearson also pointed to other initiatives underway to promote cross border traffic and cultural exchange, including a proposal to reopen and bike and pedestrian ferry between Ogdensburg and Prescott, Ontario.

However, despite those efforts, the recent flap between the Canadian prime minister and U.S. president have resulted in a few negative responses from across the border.

“I have had a few negative emails, mostly bashing Trump and saying that nothing we can do will entice them to visit,” Pearson said.

But for shoppers like Bissonette and his wife, the disagreement between world leaders means more to the pundits than it does to them.

“I appreciate what Trump is trying to do to stimulate the economy,” Bissonette said. “I don’t mind saying that. He may be a bit of a bully, but look, in today’s world, it’s every man for themselves.”