In recent years Canada has developed an international reputation for being a country that welcomes people from other countries, and this has increasingly become part of the country’s own self-image. In the past year, however, this openness is being challenged by a continuing flow of asylum seekers arriving at the Canadian border from the USA and increasingly heated political rhetoric with a federal election now only months away. Some commentators have suggested that the public may now be turning less receptive to newcomers, who continue to arrive at a pace of 300,000 plus a year. The Environics Institute conducted a national public opinion survey in April 2019 to identify if and how Canadian attitudes about immigration and refugees have changed over the past six months, as part of its ongoing Focus Canada research program.
Overall, Canadians’ views about immigrants and refugees have held remarkably steady since last fall, and in a few cases have become more positive. As before, there is no public consensus on the presence and impact of immigrants and refugees, with significant segments of the population holding opposing views. But as has been the case most of the past two decades, positive sentiments outweigh negative ones on such questions as the overall level of immigration, its positive impact on the economy, its low impact on crime rates, and the impact on the country as a whole. Opinions are more evenly divided when it comes to concerns about too many immigrants not adopting the right values and some refugees not being legitimate; but in these cases the balance of opinion has held steady if not improved slightly in the past six months.
The survey reveals that Canadians’ overall level of satisfaction with the direction of their country has dipped significantly since last fall, and is now at its lowest point in more than a decade. But this appears to be mostly due to rising concerns about the economy, the environment and poor government leadership, which top the list of issues seen as the country’s most pressing problem. By comparison, immigration and refugee concerns remain well down the list.
As on past surveys, attitudes about immigration and refugees differ across the population. Positive sentiments are most prevalent among younger Canadians, immigrants, and people with a university education. Negative views are most evident in Alberta, among Canadians ages 60 and older, and those without a high school diploma. The largest divergence is along partisan political lines, primarily between supporters of the federal Liberal Party who are the most pro-immigrant/refugee, in sharp contrast with those who would vote for the federal Conservative Party or Peoples Party. Notably, however, this gap has not widened over the past six months, and on some questions Conservative voters have become less negative.
What most Canadians across the country do agree on is that – whether the presence of immigrants and refugees is considered to be a good thing or not -– their country is a welcoming place. Eight in ten say that local public agencies and populations welcome both immigrants and refugees who arrive in their communities.