Public Opinion On Immigration Changing In Canada

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A new poll by Abacus Data says a majority of Canadians believe the country’s immigration targets to be “too high”. This could possibly have repercussions for the Trudeau government in the upcoming federal elections.

Canada released its 2024-2026 Immigration Levels Plan on November 1, 2023, as per which Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will take in 485,000 new permanent residents in 2024, 500,000 in 2025, and 500,000 in 2026. The plan’s emphasis on economic growth is complemented by its aims to support family reunification, and its willingness to respond to humanitarian crises.

The high range is 532,500 for 2024, 550,000 for 2025, and 550,000 for 2026.

However, two-thirds – or 67 percent – of Canadians say that they oppose the aforementioned immigration targets. Moreover, two in five Canadians deem immigration numbers as “way too high,” and only 2% believe them to be too low.

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“The public opinion has shifted in Canada to a point where if a political leader wanted to make this an issue, they could,” said Abacus chair and CEO David Coletto.

“We’re headed into a period where there’s going to be friction.”

Coletto and Eddie Sheppard’s report, titled Thresholds and Tensions: Unmasking Public Unease with Canada’s Immigration Goals, conducted a national survey of 2,000 Canadians (aged 18+) to assess their perceptions of immigration in Canada today.

They found a strong correlation between age and perceptions of immigration targets, with older Canadians more likely to think immigration targets are too high compared to their younger counterparts.

Political affiliations form another cleavage of opinion.

Although 82 per cent of Conservative voters in the 2021 elections said that immigration targets were too high, it was not the only party whose majority supporters held that view. 63 percent of NDP voters and 61 percent of Liberal voters echoed a similar sentiment. This demonstrates the formation of a cross-partisan consensus on immigration levels.

4 in 10 Canadians Think That the Immigrant Population in Their Community is Rising

There is a perceived growth of immigrant numbers in Canadians’ communities, with 4 in 10 believing that they are growing significantly (up from 35% in July), and 23% noting a moderate rise (a little less than 24% in July) in immigration.

Only 5% say that immigrant numbers are not rising at all.

The perception about an increase in immigrant population in community was most pronounced in Atlantic Canada and Alberta, with 43 percent of people surveyed in both provinces reporting that it is “increasing significantly.”

Partisan politics created a very sharp cleavage in this regard, with 47 percent of Conservative Party supporters citing a significant increase in immigrant numbers in their community, and 28 percent of Liberal supporters saying the same.

Despite Canadians Having Been Largely Pro-Immigration, a Shift is Being Seen

Coletto said that Canadians have largely supported immigration in the past, without having seen it as a cause for concern. For example, a fall 2022 survey reported that seven in ten Canadians supported the country’s immigration levels, which was the largest ever majority recorded by Environics in the past 45 years, according to the Star.

This was also in contrast with the remainder of the Global North, with countries such as the US, UK, and European states having very polarizing political debates on immigration.

However, Canadians’ pro-immigration stance is reversing, with 70 percent of Albertans and Ontarians saying they were unhappy with current immigration levels, followed by Atlantic respondents, at 68 percent, and Manitoban and Saskatchewan poll takers, at 67 percent.

British Columbians and Quebecers were next, at 64 percent and 60 percent respectively.

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The reversal, as per Coletto, was initiated around six to eight months ago, when conversations surrounding the cost of living, the housing crisis, and the healthcare scarcity came to the forefront.

“For a long time, it was conventional wisdom that Canada is unique among peer nations in our openness and acceptance of immigration. But as this survey highlights, conventional wisdom is being challenged.”

“As a scarcity mindset sets in, concerns about the availability and affordability of housing, capacity of the healthcare system, and possibly a recession approach are causing people to reassess the appropriateness of such ambitious immigration targets. This survey highlights the fluidity and dynamism inherent in public opinion.”

“(This polling data) proves that we can’t assume that Canadians are just different from the rest of the world.”

The Trend in Canada’s Immigration Levels

Over the years, successive federal governments in Canada have maintained a high immigration level, at 250,000 per year since the end of the 1990s. This was a strategy to boost the economy and the country’s population.

However, none of that was comparable to the Liberal government’s immigration targets, which have – since late 2015 – skyrocketed the number of newcomers to Canada. The number surpassed 300,000 at the outset, but then reduced significantly during COVID-19.

Since border restrictions have eased, numbers have gone beyond even pre-pandemic levels; 431,645 immigrants came in 2022, and 465,000 are to come in 2023.

Coletto said that immigrants are a requisite driver of Canada’s economy and for taking care of its ageing population. It is thus very important to change public perception of immigration.

“It’s essential we get this right and that Canada’s population continues to grow,” he said.

“But they have to back it up with a plan that lays out how they’re going to mitigate the negative effects that people believe this level of immigration is having.”

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Colin Singer
Colin Singer is an international acclaimed Canadian immigration lawyer and founder of featured on Wikipedia. Colin Singer is also founding director of the Canadian Citizenship & Immigration Resource Center (CCIRC) Inc. He served as an Associate Editor of ‘Immigration Law Reporter’, the pre-eminent immigration law publication in Canada. He previously served as an executive member of the Canadian Bar Association’s Quebec and National Immigration Law Sections and is currently a member of the Canadian Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Colin has twice appeared as an expert witness before Canada’s House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. He is frequently recognized as a recommended authority at national conferences sponsored by government and non-government organizations on matters affecting Canada’s immigration and human resource industries. Since 2009, Colin has been a Governor of the Quebec Bar Foundation a non-profit organization committed to the advancement of the profession, and became a lifetime member in 2018.