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Could divisive US election drive wedge between Canadians and Americans in Sault Ste. Marie?

People in Sault Ste. Marie, on both the Ontario and Michigan sides, like to say it's one city, split between two countries.

Republican-leaning northern Michigan could decide who wins the White House

Anthony Stackpoole is the chairman for the Republican Party of Chippewa County in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. (Erik White/CBC)
We're checking in with our neighbours over in northern Michigan, specifically Sault Ste. Marie, and what this divisive election could mean for the twin cities on the St. Mary's? Our reporter Erik White reported live from the US side of the border. 7:42

People in Sault Ste. Marie, on both the Ontario and Michigan sides, like to say it's one city, split between two countries.

And​ Anthony Stackpoole, chair of the Chippewa County Republicans, says his Canadian neighbours shouldn't worry about that changing if Donald Trump becomes president.

"I don't see a lot of change happening between Canada and America. It's going to be business as usual," he says wearing a 'Make American Great Again' T-shirt. 

"Trump has said some things he probably shouldn't have said. Hilary has done the same thing. Everybody's done that before in their past. I think you need to get past the rhetoric and those comments and look at the record."

But Stackpoole, who has headed the local Republican party since 2001, says this hasn't been a usual election in northern Michigan, where he says people have been more willing to talk about politics with their friends and families, which has led to some uncomfortable situations.

"There are some Democrats who come in here, there are some Democrats that are afraid of me," he says of the downtown Sault Ste. Marie coffee shop he's owned for 19 years. 

"We can have that difference of opinion, but we should still be cordial on other fronts."

Chippewa County Democratic Chair Allison Youngs stands in the campaign office in downtown Sault Ste. Marie, while volunteers call prospective voters. (Erik White/CBC)

Local Democrat chair Allison Youngs says she's had a hard time getting people to volunteer for the campaign in Sault Michigan and she thinks it's because they're trying to fly under the radar.

"I think people are afraid to say who they are voting for," she says.

"I've seen a lot of friendships break-up on Facebook this year. I felt kind of sad, because we're all Americans in the end, but you try not to talk politics too much when you're out in public. I've gotten in a few arguments."

But Youngs doesn't think it will last.

"I'm hoping once we get through this election and we see the world is going on, that we can all start working together again," she says.

Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario city councillor Steve Butland looks across the St. Mary's River at the sister city in Michigan. (Erik White/CBC )

Steve Butland, a long-time city councillor in Sault Ontario who was also once the city's mayor and federal MP, says despite the closeness between the twin cities, one subject that rarely comes up is politics, which tend to be left of centre on one side of the St. Mary's River and staunchly Republican on the other.

"Maybe that's a good reason why we don't talk to one another on a regular basis about elections in either country," he says with a laugh.

Butland says on a personal level, the two Saults will be close no matter who is president, but says if Trump wins, America is likely to become a very different place.

Linda Bignell is an American citizen, originally from New Jersey, who has lived for nearly 40 years in Sault Ontario.

She says a Trump presidency could finally convince her to become a Canadian.

"You know it's the very first time I've thought about it. He's really not going to affect me personally, but I'm not really sure I want to be associated with him," says Bignell, who says she still feels more at home south of the border, despite decades of living in Canada. 

"Donald Trump probably epitomizes everything that people hate about Americans."

Michigan could play a major role in whether or not Trump becomes president. Sault Ste. Marie and northern Michigan tend to go Republican, but with major Democrat support in Detroit and other large southern cities, the state and its 16 electoral college votes haven't gone to a Republican presidential candidate since 1988.

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