Michael J. Donnelly and Peter Loewen: Canadians’ feelings about immigration are mixed at best

Interesting new study by political scientists and Peter Loewen, reinforcing in part some of the conclusions of the earlier Angus Reid poll (CBC-Angus Reid poll: Canadians want minorities to do more to ‘fit in’) and subject to some of the same critiques (Angus Reid’s survey actually shows high level of support for our diverse society: CardozoHow Angus Reid, CBC got it wrong about multiculturalism: Jedwab).

That being said, their policy conclusions – our political system reduces the risk, politicians and others should avoid pandering or cultivating xenophobic attitudes – are sound:

Our core conclusion:? Canadian attitudes are not exceptionally pro-immigrant or racially enlightened. Instead, Canadian society contains the potential for the same kinds of hate that we see elsewhere.

One question we asked was whether respondents would support, oppose, or neither support nor oppose cutting off all immigration to Canada. Not surprisingly, only 19 per cent of respondents supported such a step. However, only 46 per cent expressed opposition, with the rest on the fence. How does this compare to our southern neighbours? In 2010, the same question was asked of the American public. There, a similar 42 per cent expressed opposition. When asked about allowing immigrants from poor countries, the Canadian public answered more positively than 9 and less positively than 11 European countries where the same question was asked in 2014 and 2015. In other words, Canadian attitudes are normal for a developed country. Canada is not exceptional on that score.

The study, a project of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC), also found that while attitudes among Canadians towards refugees and immigrants range largely from positive to benign, those views are not necessarily strongly held.

Study author Michael Donnelly, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, concludes that, as a result, there is potential for intolerant, anti-immigrant, and anti-refugee sentiment to increase.

None of this means that Canadian politics will inevitably go the way of populist rhetoric and action. Canadian institutions and — especially — Canadian leaders have the ability to guide politics, to maintain the norms of non-racism and to pursue policies of inclusion and cooperation. Attitudes do not lead inexorably to policies or even to politics. As two of the three largest Canadian political parties choose new leaders, those party elites and activists who have a say in the process have a duty to avoid the mistakes of the U.S. Republican Party. There, a fractured elite and the use of primary elections meant that Donald Trump could use racist demagoguery to capture the leadership of a party that contains many for whom such rhetoric was not attractive. That, in turn, meant that when the normal processes of partisanship and retrospective voting took over in the general election, he had a roughly 50/50 chance of capturing the presidency.

To see if this could happen in Canada, we asked respondents who expressed support for one of the four largest parties to choose between hypothetical candidates for leadership, based only on their names, ages, province of residence and positions on the CPP, immigration and refugees. What we found is, in some ways encouraging, but contains hints of danger for the Canadian model of openness and multiculturalism. We saw no evidence of discrimination against candidates with Indian or Francophone names, and no evidence of discrimination against female names. However, among none of the parties was there clear evidence of an electoral benefit to more open immigration or refugee policies. Indeed, among Conservatives, accepting zero Syrian refugees is a “winning” strategy, and among NDP partisans, a candidate that called for increasing economic immigration appears to suffer a large electoral penalty.

We do not write this to encourage candidates to pursue such policies in their respective leadership contests. After all, public surveys offer little insight into the opinions of the small slice of Canadians who will select leaders in both parties. Rather we offer this as evidence of two claims. First, Canadian institutions of leader selection may lead to better, less divisive leaders. Second, politicians and those selecting them have a responsibility to avoid xenophobic pandering and to reinforce the norms of behavior that have allowed the Canadian model, for all its faults, to create the open, exciting and peaceful society we enjoy.

Source: Michael J. Donnelly and Peter Loewen: Canadians’ feelings about immigration are mixed at best | National Post

Another poll from Pew provides a slightly different picture:

Most Canadians don’t care where residents are born, but they do care about whether they speak English or French.

A global study of national identity by Pew Research has discovered that Canadians are among the least inclined to think place of birth defines whether someone is an authentic citizen.

Only 21 per cent of Canadians said place of birth is important. That compares to 32 per cent of those in the U.S. and more than 50 per cent of the population in Greece and Japan who believe birthplace is crucial to national identity.

The Pew Research study was done in the wake of growing concerns in the U.S. and Europe about globalization, high migration rates and protectionism, factors that have contributed to the rise of Donald Trump and immigration-skeptic parties.

pew-graph-identity-place-of-birth

Canada under the Liberals has gone a different direction, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talking about this being the world’s “first post-national country.”

Even though Canadians did not emphasize place of birth in the Pew poll, they did care about whether residents can speak English or French, the official languages.

Three in five Canadians agreed that “being able to speak our national language(s) is very important for being truly Canadian.”

Canadians’ language expectations, however, were still quite a bit lower than they are the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and the U.S. (See chart below.)

In Canada, one out of five people do not have English or French as their mother tongue.

Source: ‘True’ Canadians don’t need to be born here, but language matters: Poll

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

2 Responses to Michael J. Donnelly and Peter Loewen: Canadians’ feelings about immigration are mixed at best

  1. Anne Leahy says:

    Survey 1: the responsibility of politicians in not exacerbating xenophobic sentiment was a unanimous call in Quebec after the mosque shootings. It is so obvious – but so irresistible it seems. Survey 2: I would like to see how answers from Quebecers in Quebec compare to those of the rest of the country.

    • Andrew says:

      Good ideas! Why don’t you suggest it to some pollsters. Might be the kind of question that Ekos or Environics might be interested in.

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