Federal government immigration poll suggests hardening attitudes

People take the citizenship oath at Pier 21 immigration centre in Halifax on July 1, 2017. An internal government survey of Canadians' perceptions of immigration suggests attitudes could be hardening.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adina Bresge

OTTAWA - When he announced the federal strategy of ramping up the number of immigrants to Canada over the next three years, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen described it as what Canadians wanted and needed — especially with governments around the world closing their doors to immigrants and refugees.

It was a subtle jab at the policies of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has cracked down on immigration in the name of the "America First" sentiment that got him elected a year ago Tuesday.

But over the course of those 12 months, Canadian views on immigration appear to have shifted in that same direction, according to the survey the federal government carries out each year as part of its immigration planning process.

Partial results of the internal survey were posted online in connection with last week's release of the plan, which calls for 310,000 people admitted to be admitted in 2018, up from 300,000 this year.

By 2020, the level of new admissions will rise to 340,000.

About 27 per cent of the survey's 2,503 respondents said they felt that number is too high — an increase of four percentage points over the responses to the same question in the 2016 survey, which had only about 1,600 respondents.

While the survey is done annually, the questions aren't always the same, and the sample size also varies.

The 2017 survey was conducted between July 31 and Aug. 30, and carries a margin of error of plus or minus 1.96 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The 2016 survey — used by the department as a point of comparison in their analysis — surveyed 1,598 people with a margin of error of 2.45 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The timing of the 2017 study coincided with a spike in asylum seekers crossing illegally into Canada.

The influx generated heated debate about the integrity of Canada's asylum system. The Opposition Conservatives have repeatedly accused the government of placing Canada's historically high support for immigration at risk as a result.

In 2005-06, 1,598 Canadians were asked about the positive impact of immigration on a national and local level. Seventy-two per cent agreed there was one for Canada, while 58 per cent saw a personal benefit. When the question was repeated this year, only 70 per cent saw a positive national effect, while 56 per cent believed there was a positive impact on them personally.

Though the surge of asylum seekers in the summer drew attention, more people have been seeking asylum in Canada since Trump won.

The divisive U.S. president campaigned on promise to curb immigration in general and refugees in particular. His first actions upon taking office in January included an executive order, a move that prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to say publicly that Canada would continue to welcome those fleeing persecution.

The poll suggests attitudes towards refugee resettlement in Canada have also dampened in the last year.

When asked in August which of the three main immigration categories should grow, 25 per cent of respondents singled out the refugee category, down from 29 per cent in 2016, when a similar question was asked.

Thirty-two per cent also told pollsters in 2017 that too many refugees were coming to Canada, up from 30 per cent in 2016.

The 2017 poll also asked respondents about their comfort levels around people of different races and religions, a question that was also asked in 2005-06.

This year, 89 per cent said they were comfortable around people of a different race, down from 94 per cent in 2005-2006.

When asked if they felt comfortable in social situations with people from a different religion, 82 per cent said yes, down from 88 per cent the last time the question was asked.


This image released by Lionsgate shows Julia Roberts, left, and Owen Wilson in a scene from "Wonder."
MOVIE REVIEW: 'Wonder' is a sweetly sincere message movie
  OPINION It's hard for us cynical souls to walk into a movie advertised with the tagline "Choose kindness" and not shudder in trepidation. What sentimental hooey is this? What new hellish circle of cheese

Top News