ARCHIVED – A literature review of Public Opinion Research on Canadian attitudes towards multiculturalism and immigration, 2006-2009

2. Canadian attitudes towards multiculturalism and immigration (Continued)

2.3. Support for immigration

2.3.1. Immigration Levels

Canadians express broad support for immigration through their general approval of annual immigration levels. Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s (CIC) research program includes an Annual Tracking Survey of public opinion on issues related to citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism. This survey allows tracking over time of Canadian’s attitudes towards immigration levels. [Note 3]

The January 2009 CIC Tracking Survey revealed that most Canadians feel the number of immigrants coming to Canada is about right (50%) or too little (14%); these perceptions have changed little over the past five years (Figure 37). [Note 4] A 2008 Environics survey also found that most Canadians’ attitudes are positive about the country’s immigration rate, with just over six in ten (63%) who disagree that “overall, there is too much immigration to Canada” (Figure 38). Indeed, support for current levels of immigration has been on the rise since the late 1990s, although it appears to have remained the same since 2005. Similarly, a 2006 Strategic Counsel survey found that a majority of Canadians believe Canada accepts about the right amount (42%) or too few immigrants (10%) per year (Figure 39).

In general, younger Canadians appear to be more supportive of immigration. For example, based on the 2009 CIC Tracking Survey, the proportion of Canadians who say the number of immigrants coming to Canada is about right is higher among those under 35 years old (58%) than those 55 years of age and older (44%). Similarly, according to the 2008 Environics survey (Figure 38, breakdown by age not shown), disagreement with “there is too much immigration to Canada” tends to be higher among younger Canadians.

Another interesting result emerges from the CIC Annual Tracking Survey, which asks the respondents’ opinion of immigration levels twice: the second time, seeking to understand if this opinion is changed by, first, asking respondents what they think the actual annual number of immigrants coming to Canada is and, second, providing them with this number (see Figures 39 and 40 for question wording). The results of the 2006 and 2009 CIC Tracking Surveys (Figures 39 and 40) suggest that levels of support for immigration rates drop only very slightly the second time the question is asked. Combining the responses stating that “about right” and “too few” immigrants are coming to Canada adds up to 64 percent before receiving the information on actual levels, and 60 percent after – a relatively small change. In parallel, the proportion saying there are “too many” immigrants grows 10 points to 36 percent, drawing primarily from those who had no opinion prior to being told the actual numbers.

Figure 37: In your opinion, do you feel there are too many, too few, or about the right number of immigrants coming to Canada?

Note: time points shown on the horizontal axis indicate when polls were conducted: durations of intervals between time points vary.


(CIC Tracking Surveys, 2008-9 sample size: 1,203)

Text version: Number of immigrants coming to Canada

Figure 38: Overall, there is too much immigration to Canada (strongly agree to strongly disagree, 4-point scale)

Note: time points shown on the horizontal axis indicate when polls were conducted: durations of intervals between time points vary.


(Environics, Focus Canada 2008-1, sample size 2008: 2,028)

Text version: Too much immigration to Canada

Figure 39: From what you can tell, do you think Canada accepts too many, too few or about the right number of immigrants per year?

Results do not add up to 100 because totals include “Don’t know” response.


(2005, 2006, Strategic Counsel for Globe & Mail/CTV, sample size: 1,000 each wave)

Text version: Acceptable number of immigrants per year

Figure 40: In total, approximately how many new immigrants do you think Canada allows into the country each year? [Respondent answer]
 
In fact, in the last few years approximately 240,000 to 250,000 [Note 5] new immigrants came to Canada each year. Knowing this, do you feel there are too many, too few, or about the right number of immigrants coming to Canada?

Results do not add up to 100 because totals include “Don’t know” response.


(CIC Tracking Survey, 2006 sample size: 1,200)

2.3.2. Immigrants’ contributions to Canada

Canadians express consistently positive views about the impact that immigrants have on Canada. The 2008 Canadian Election Study found that more than eight in ten (85%) agree that “immigrants make an important contribution to this country,” a perception that has remained largely unchanged since 2000 (Figure 41). Positive perceptions are also widespread when Canadians are asked about the effect of immigration on their city or community. In a 2007 survey for the Canada West Foundation, majorities of eight in ten or more residents of cities from Toronto to the west agree that “immigration from other countries is good for this city” (Figure 42, cities include Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Regina, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver).

The 2009 CIC tracking survey finds that half (50%) of Canadians say immigration has a very or somewhat positive effect, compared to 15% who say it has a negative effect (one-third chose to say “neither” when given the option, Figure 43). Since 2007, positive views of the impact of immigration on the community have declined (by 9 percentage points), offset by a growing proportion who feel the impact has been neither positive nor negative; negative views have remained consistently low over the past five years.

Majority support for the contributions made by newcomers is also evident in the public’s rejection of negatively-worded statements about immigrants; Figure 44 includes three such examples. A 2007 Ipsos-Reid survey finds that two-thirds (66%) of Canadians disagree that “the fabric of Canadian society is being threatened by the influx of visible minority immigrants.” The vast majority (89%) also disagree with the somewhat inflammatory statement included in a 2006 Ipsos-Reid online survey that “Canada would be a lot better off if immigrants went back to where they came from”; in fact, two-thirds (67%) strongly disagreed, while only 9% agreed.

Focusing on perceptions of immigration and the economy does not greatly change Canadians’ impressions of immigrants’ contributions. Canadians feel that immigrants have a positive impact on the Canadian economy: in a 2008 Environics survey, for instance, a large majority (82%) agreed that the economic impact of immigration is positive, while 15% disagreed (Figure 45). These data suggest that the proportion who are optimistic about the effect of immigration on the economy may have grown slightly since 2006 (up 4 percentage points, from 78% to 82%), returning to the record-high level previously reached in 2003 (83%). Moreover, only a minority of Canadians believe immigrants are a threat when it comes to employment. In a 2008 Environics survey, the proportion of those polled who agreed with the idea that immigrants take away jobs from other Canadians (20%) reached an all-time low (Figure 46).

These impressions are reflected in a number of related polling questions, some of which are included in Figure 47. Agreement that new immigrants take too many jobs from Canadians is limited to a small minority of respondents (18%) in a 2007 Ipsos-Reid survey. A question included in a 2006 Ipsos-Reid online survey switched the focus slightly to the types of jobs immigrants fill upon coming to Canada. The results of this survey indicate that Canadians are most likely to say immigrants take jobs Canadians don’t want (46%) or create new jobs for themselves (19%); once again, only two in ten (22%) believe they take away jobs from Canadians. Moreover, the 2009 CIC tracking survey found that most (66%) Canadians believe immigration makes a positive impact on Canada’s economy; only two in ten (19%) think the impact is negative, while 14% say the impact is neither positive nor negative. This result of the CIC 2009 Tracking Survey, compared to the result of the Environics 2008 survey reported above, may lead to think that there has been a decline in the proportion of Canadians who think the contribution of immigrants to the economy is positive, from 82% to 66%. However, it is important to note that the Environics and CIC survey questions employ different response scales (compare questions shown in Figure 45 and the third part of Figure 47.) In other words, the results of the two questions are not directly comparable. In general, the results of the 2009 CIC Tracking Survey show that, even under the influence of the 2008 economic recession, the attitudes of Canadians regarding the contribution of immigrants to the economy remained to a great extent positive. [Note 6] Although younger Canadians express greater support for immigration overall, views about the impact of immigration on communities, on the Canadian economy and on jobs are similar across all age groups.

Figure 41: Immigrants make an important contribution to this country (strongly agree to strong disagree, 4-point scale)


(Canadian Election Studies, sample size (Mailback survey): ~1,500 per election)

Text version: Immigrants make a contribution to this country

Figure 42: Immigration from other countries is good for [city] (strongly agree to strongly disagree, 4-point scale)


(2007, Canada West Foundation, sample size: 500 urban residents in each of Vanc, Calg, Edm, Reg, Sask, Winn, Tor)

Text version: Immigration is good for either of these cities

Figure 43: In general, what effect does immigration to this country have on your community? (very positive to very negative, 5-point scale)

Note: time points shown on the horizontal axis indicate when polls were conducted: durations of intervals between time points vary.


(Focus Canada 2008-1, sample size 2008: 2,028)

Text version: Immigration’s effect on your community

Figure 44: Opinions about immigrants and Canadian society
Overall, would you say that immigrants have a good influence or bad influence on the way things are going in Canada? (very good influence to very bad influence, 4-point scale)
Options % (Percentage)
Very good influence 10
Somewhat good influence 42
Somewhat bad influence 33
Very bad influence 7
Don’t know / not applicable  9

(2007, Ipsos-Reid for CanWest/Global News, sample size: 7,787, online)

Canada would be a lot better off if immigrants went back to where they came from (strongly agree to strongly disagree, 4-point scale)
Options % (Percentage)
Strongly agree 4
Moderately agree 5
Moderately disagree 22
Strongly disagree 67
Don’t know / not applicable 2

(2007, Ipsos-Reid for CanWest/Global News, sample size: 7,787, online)

The fabric of Canadian society is being threatened by the influx of visible minority immigrants. (strongly agree to strongly disagree, 4-point scale)
Options % (Percentage)
Strongly agree 10
Moderately agree 20
Moderately disagree 31
Strongly disagree 35
Don’t know / not applicable 3

(2007, Ipsos-Reid for CanWest/Global News, sample size: 1,002)

Figure 45: Overall, immigration has a positive impact on the economy of Canada (strongly agree to strongly disagree, 4-point scale)

Note: time points shown on the horizontal axis indicate when polls were conducted: durations of intervals between time points vary.


(Focus Canada 2008-1, sample size 2008: 2,028)

Text version: Immigration’s impact on the economy of Canada

Figure 46: Immigrants take away jobs from other Canadians (strongly agree to strongly disagree, 4-point scale)

Note: time points shown on the horizontal axis indicate when polls were conducted: durations of intervals between time points vary.


(Focus Canada 2008-1, sample size 2008: 2,028)

Text version: Immigrants take away jobs from other Canadians

Figure 47: Opinions about immigrants and the economy
Do you think immigrants coming to Canada today mostly…?
Options % (Percentage)
Take away jobs from Canadians 22
Take jobs that Canadians don’t want 46
Create new jobs for themselves 19
Don’t know / not applicable 13

(2006, Ipsos-Reid for CanWest/Global News, sample size: 7,787, online)

Does immigration make a positive or negative impact on Canada’s economy? (very positive to very negative, 5-point scale)
Options % (Percentage)
Very positive 20
Somewhat positive 46
Neither 14
Somewhat negative 14
Very negative 5
Don’t know / not applicable 2

(2008-9, CIC Tracking Survey, 2008-9 sample size: 1,203)

New immigrants take too many jobs away from Canadians (strongly agree to strongly disagree, 4-point scale)?
Options % (Percentage)
Strongly agree 8
Moderately agree 10
Moderately disagree 36
Strongly disagree 45
Don’t know / not applicable 2

(2007, Ipsos-Reid for CanWest/Global News, sample size: 1,002)

2.3.3. Attitudes about ethnic groups

There have been significant shifts over the past few decades in the source countries of Canadian immigration. As figures from the Canadian Census demonstrate, immigration levels started climbing in the 1990s: while the proportion of foreign born in the Canadian population grew from 14.7% to 16.1% between 1951 and 1991, growth accelerated in the 1990s, reaching 19.8% in 2006. This growth corresponded to an average of 229,000 immigrants every year between 1991 and 2006. In addition, the source countries of the immigrant population have greatly changed, resulting in an increasingly diverse population. Most notably, the Asian proportion of immigrants has grown from 14% in 1981 to 41% in 2006, while the proportion born in Europe declined from 67% to 37%. These trends have meant that Canada is one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse nations in the world. In the 2006 Census, over 200 ethnic origins were reported, and the proportion of the population reporting at least one ethnic origin other than Canadian, British or French was 53%. The proportion of the population reporting responses qualifying them as visible minorities was 16.2%, corresponding to approximately 5 million, 70% of whom foreign born.

Diversity does not appear to be a major concern for most Canadians. In 2008, an Environics survey found that an overwhelming majority (92%) of Canadians disagree with the statement “Non-whites should not be allowed to immigrate to Canada” (Figure 48) — a proportion that has remained largely stable since the mid 1980s. This apparent comfort with diversity is also evident in other public opinion surveys that ask similar questions (see Figure 49). A 2007 Ipsos-Reid survey found that most Canadians (73%) disagree that “More white immigrants and fewer visible minorities should be taken into Canada.” Similarly, a Strategic Council survey in 2006 found Canadians are more than twice as likely (68%) to say that “we should make no distinction and accept immigrants from all countries” than to say “we should be making a special effort to attract immigrants from some countries and not others” (25% of survey respondents).

Opinions appear more divided on the relative contribution to Canada of different immigrant groups. A 2006 Strategic Counsel survey found that half (51%) of Canadians believe there is no difference in the contributions of immigrants based on their country of origin, while four in ten (40%) believe some immigrants make bigger contributions than others. While more detailed information to explain these apparently mixed perceptions is not available, it appears that such beliefs have not led to an overall reduced support for visible minority immigrants, nor for immigration more generally.

Figure 48: Non-whites should not be allowed to immigrate to Canada (strongly agree to strongly disagree, 4-point scale)

Note: time points shown on the horizontal axis indicate when polls were conducted: durations of intervals between time points vary.


(Focus Canada 2008-1, sample size 2008: 2,028)

Text version: Non-whites’ immigration to Canada

Figure 49: Opinions about immigrants’ visible minority status and country of origin
More white immigrants and fewer visible minorities should be taken into Canada (strongly agree to strongly disagree, 4-point scale)
Options % (Percentage)
Strongly agree 9
Moderately agree 14
Moderately disagree 31
Strongly disagree 42
Don’t know / not applicable 4

(2007, Ipsos-Reid for CanWest/Global News, sample size: 1,002)

Do you think we should be making a special effort to attract immigrants from some countries and not others, or should we make no distinction and accept immigrants from all countries?
Options 2005 2006
Make no distinction 71 68
Special effort 23 25
Don’t know / not applicable 6 7

(2006 Strategic Counsel for Globe & Mail/CTV, sample size: 1,000 each wave)

And do you think immigrants that come from some countries make a bigger and better contribution when they arrive here than others or do you think there is no difference in the kind of contribution immigrants make to Canada based on the country where they came from?
Options 2005 2006
No difference 50 51
Some make bigger contribution 41 40
Don’t know / not applicable 9 9

(2006 Strategic Counsel for Globe & Mail/CTV, sample size: 1,000 each wave)


Footnote

  • [3] See Tracking Survey annual reports [back to note 3]
  • [4] 2010 Tracking Survey results became available between the completion and publication of this report: in 2010, 54% of respondents expressed the opinion that “there are the right number of immigrants coming to Canada” (up 4% from previous year), and 13% that there are too few (down 1% from previous year). [back to note 4]
  • [5] This range was provided in the 2009 questionnaire. In 2006, the range "between 240,000 and 265,000" was provided. [back to note 5]
  • [6] Results of the 2010 CIC Tracking Survey (not available when this report was written) show that the proportion of respondents saying that the contribution of immigrants to the economy was very positive (22%) or positive (46%) added up to 68%: compared to the previous year (66%), essentially the same – within the margins of sampling error. [back to note 6]
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