Canada is a country with strong international connections. Most of the population is comprised of people with roots in other countries, and today Canada welcomes roughly 300,000 immigrants each year from across the globe, most of whom settle in and become citizens while at the same time maintaining strong connections with the communities from which they came. The country’s prosperity depends in large part on trade with other countries and maintaining a positive trade balance. And Canadians are ever mindful of their much bigger neighbour to the south, with which they share much in common but also see as distinctly different.
So in many ways we are an outwardly-focused people, yet the dominant narrative around our international connections focuses on government policy – foreign aid, military missions and peace keeping, and international trade pacts. How do Canadians as individuals relate to the broader world?
2008 Canada’s World Survey. This question provided the impetus for the inaugural Canada’s World survey, which was conducted in early 2008 as part of a national citizen dialogue sponsored by Simon Fraser University’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Public Dialogue that focused on the role that Canada and Canadians can and should play in the world outside our borders.
The survey was the first to ever ask Canadians about how they see their place in the world, and that of their country – not simply what they believe their governments should be doing: What do they see as the top global issues, and how do they orient personally to the world outside of the national borders, in terms of their interests, travel and personal connections? How do they view Canada’s current role in world affairs, and what do they think it should be? The results revealed many insights (and some notable surprises), and received widespread coverage through media partnerships with the CBC, The Globe and Mail, and Le Devoir.
2018 Canada’s World Survey. A decade later, the Environics Institute conducted a second Canada’s World survey, to determine how Canadian public attitudes, priorities and actions have evolved over time, as well as address emerging issues. This research was conducted in partnership with SFU Public Square at Simon Fraser University, the Canadian International Council, and the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History.
The research consisted of a national public opinion survey conducted by telephone with a representative sample of 1,501 Canadians (18 years and older), between October 23 and November 26, 2017. The results from a survey of this size drawn from the population would be expected to provide results accurate to within plus or minus 2.5 percentage points in 95 out of 100 samples (the margin of sampling error will be larger for specific subgroups of the population).
Canadians’ views on global issues and Canada’s role in the world have remained notably stable over the past decade.
In the decade following the first Canada’s World Survey (conducted early in 2008), the world experienced significant events that changed the complexity and direction of international affairs: beginning with the financial meltdown and ensuing great recession in much of the world, followed by the continued rise of Asia as an emerging economic and political centre of power, the expansion of global terrorism, increasing tensions with North Korea and risks of nuclear conflagration; and a growing anti-government populism in Western democracies.
Despite such developments, Canadians’ orientation to many world issues and the role they see their country playing on the international stage have remained remarkably stable over the past decade. Whether it is their perception of top issues facing the world, concerns about global issues, or their views on the direction the world is heading, Canadians’ perspectives on what’s going on in the world have held largely steady.
As in 2008, Canadians have maintained a consistent level of connection to the world through their engagement in international events and issues, their personal ties to people and cultures in other countries, frequency and nature of their travel abroad, and financial contributions to international organizations and friends and family members abroad. And Canadians continue to view their country as a positive and influential force in the world, one that can serve as a role model for other countries.
This consistency notwithstanding, Canadians have been sensitive to the ebb and flow of international events and global trends.
While Canadians’ perspectives on many issues have held steady over the past decade, there have also been some shifts in how they see what’s going on in the world and how they perceive Canada’s role on the global stage, in response to key global events and issues. This suggests Canadians are paying attention to what happens beyond their own borders, and that Canadian public opinion is responsive to media coverage of the global stage.
Canadians today are more concerned than a decade ago about such world issues as terrorism, the spread of nuclear weapons, and global migration/refugees. And the public has adjusted its perceptions of specific countries as having a positive (e.g., Germany) or negative (e.g., North Korea, Russia) impact in the world today. Canadians are also shifting their opinions about their country’s influence in world affairs, placing stronger emphasis on multiculturalism and accepting refugees, our country’s global political influence and diplomacy, and the popularity of our Prime Minister.
Canadians increasingly define their country’s place in the world as one that welcomes people from elsewhere.
Multiculturalism, diversity and inclusion are increasingly seen by Canadians as their country’s most notable contribution to the world. It is now less about peacekeeping and foreign aid, and more about who we are now becoming as a people and how we get along with each other. Multiculturalism and the acceptance of immigrants and refugees now stand out as the best way Canadians feel their country can be a role model for others, and as a way to exert influence on the global stage.
Moreover, Canadians are paying greater attention to issues related to immigration and refugees than they did a decade ago, their top interest in traveling abroad remains learning about another culture and language; and they increasingly believe that having Canadians living abroad is a good thing, because it helps spread Canadian culture and values (which include diversity) beyond our shores. Significantly, one in three Canadians report a connection to the Syrian refugee sponsorship program over the past two years, either through their own personal involvement in sponsoring a refugee family (7%) or knowing someone who has (25%).
Young Canadians’ views and perspectives on many aspects of world affairs have converged with those of older cohorts, but their opinions on Canada’s role on the world stage have become more distinct when it comes to promoting diversity.
It is young Canadians (ages 18 to 24) whose level of engagement with world issues and events has evolved most noticeably over the past decade, converging with their older counterparts whose level of engagement has either not changed nor kept pace with Canadian youth. Young people are increasingly following international issues and events to the same degree, they are as optimistic about the direction of the world as older Canadians, and they are close to being as active as travelers. At the same time, Canadian youth now hold more distinct opinions on their country’s role in the world as it relates specifically to diversity. They continue to be the most likely of all age groups to believe Canada’s role in the world has grown over the past 20 years, and are now more likely to single out multiculturalism and accepting immigrants/refugees as their country’s most positive contribution to the world.
Foreign-born Canadians have grown more engaged and connected to world affairs than native-born Canadians, and are more likely to see Canada playing an influential role on the global stage.
Foreign-born Canadians have become more involved in what’s going on outside our borders over the past decade, opening a noticeable gap with their native-born counterparts. They continue to follow international news and events more closely than people born in Canada, but have developed a much greater concern for a range of issues since 2008, while native-born Canadians’ views have not kept pace. Canadians born elsewhere have grown more optimistic about the direction in which the world is heading, while those born in the country have turned more pessimistic. And Canadians born in other countries have also become more positive about the degree of influence Canada has on world affairs, and the impact the country can have on addressing a number of key global issues.
For more details see final report, executive summary and data tables – links on right sidebar.
Keywords: global issues, foreign policy, government policy/priorities, USA, Canadian symbols/identity, human rights, Canada’s role in the world, international experience/connections
DETAILED DATA TABLES