The topic of immigration rarely reaches double digits when Canadians are asked about the most important issues facing the country.
In September, only three per cent of Canadians selected immigration when asked to either choose between nine concerns or offer one of their own. Housing, homelessness and poverty (25 per cent), health care (24 per cent) and the economy and jobs (20 per cent) continue to dominate nationwide.
Canada is in a unique generational divide when it comes to what is keeping us awake at night. Young adults are struggling to become homeowners, their middle-aged counterparts worry about finances and Canada’s oldest residents are concerned about the viability of the health-care system. In the heat of a federal political campaign – even one that is technically two years away – immigration can be seen as a hindrance on each of these three pressing issues.
When Research Co. and Glacier Media asked Canadians earlier this month, 45 per cent told us that immigration is having a “mostly positive” effect in Canada, while 38 per cent believe it is having a “mostly negative” effect and 17 per cent are undecided. This year’s survey outlines a significant shift from the way Canadians felt in February 2022, when positive perceptions of immigration were nine points higher (54 per cent) and negative ones were 12 points lower (26 per cent).
In 2023, only in two provinces – Quebec and British Columbia – do we find majorities of residents looking at immigration in a positive light (54 per cent and 51 per cent, respectively). The proportions are lower in Saskatchewan and Manitoba (46 per cent), Ontario (41 per cent), Atlantic Canada (also 41 per cent) and Alberta (34 per cent).
The anti-immigrant sentiment that is sometimes present in parts of Europe is not appearing in Canada. We continue to see 75 per cent of Canadians who think the work and talent of immigrants makes Canada better, as well as 65 per cent who believe immigrants should only be allowed in Canada if they adopt Canadian values.
One issue where the numbers are moving is our vision of the country. There is a virtual tie when we ask Canadians if they would prefer the “mosaic” model, where cultural differences are preserved (45 per cent), or the “melting pot”, where immigrants assimilate and blend into society (42 per cent). In July 2021, the “mosaic” had a 12-point lead over the “melting pot” (47 per cent to 35 per cent).
On the vision question, the gender divide is fascinating. Practically half of Canadian men (47 per cent) choose the “melting pot,” while a similar proportion of Canadian women (48 per cent) prefer the “mosaic.”
The strident debate over illegal immigration that has played a role in American politics for the past four decades has never been present in Canada. Still, some perceptions are changing. In this month’s survey, practically two in five Canadians (39 per cent) think the number of legal immigrants who are allowed to relocate in Canada should decrease, up 14 points since February 2022. More thana third (37 per cent, down two points) would retain the same levels, while 17 per cent would increase immigration (down eight points).
In similar fashion to what is observed in the United States, ideology plays a role in the way we feel about immigration levels. More than two in five Canadians who voted for the Liberal Party (42 per cent) and the New Democratic Party (NDP) (46 per cent) in 2021 think the status quo is working. Only 29 per cent of Conservative Party voters concur.
While about a third of Liberals and New Democrats (32 per cent and 33 per cent, respectively) are ready to decrease the number of legal immigrants who enter Canada, the proportion jumps to 51 per cent among Conservatives.
While immigration is not rising as an issue of concern across Canada, it can become a key point of discussion for many reasons. We have seen politicians in the United States focus on immigrants – legal and illegal – to criticize the performance of governments on areas such as housing and finances. At this point, half of Conservative voters would welcome a reduction in the number of legal immigrants. The popularity of the party, and the way Canadians feel about their daily lives, will define if immigration becomes a campaign issue in 2025.
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.
Results are based on an online study conducted on Oct. 11-13, 2023, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error – which measures sample variability – is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.