Canadian public opinion on immigration, refugees ‘remarkably steady’, new survey finds

Stephen Smith
Published: April 30, 2019

A majority of Canadians continue to hold positive views on key aspects of immigration and few see immigrants and refugees as a pressing national concern, a new Environics Institute survey has found.

The findings of the public opinion research institute's Spring 2019 Focus Canada survey found that Canadians' views on immigration and refugees have "held remarkably steady" since its previous study in October 2018.

The survey is conducted every six months and interviews a sample of 2,000 Canadians about their views on immigration and refugees.

"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," the survey found.

The survey found issues like the economy, the environment/climate change and poor government leadership to be of greater concern to Canadians.

"By comparison, immigration and refugee concerns remain well down the list," it reported, noting that only three per cent of Canadians identified them as the most important issues facing the country today.

The survey noted that it comes amid the "increasingly heated political rhetoric" around the influx of more than 40,000 asylum seekers into Canada via unofficial entry points along its border with the United States.

The governing Liberal Party of Canada has faced heavy criticism from its political opponents, and the Conservative Party of Canada in particular, over its handling of the situation and many observers feel it could be an issue in the federal election scheduled for this fall.

The survey found, however, that only three per cent of Conservative Party of Canada supporters consider immigrants and refugees to be the top issue facing the country.

The results contrasted a new Gallup survey of public opinion in the United States that put immigration second only to government/poor leadership as the top concern there.

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Too much immigration? 59% say no

On certain questions, public opinion on immigration even improved slightly from where it had been in October 2018.

This was the case when respondents were asked if "overall, there is too much immigration in Canada":  59 per cent disagreed with the statement, up from 58 per cent in October 2018. Just over a third of Canadians agreed with it.

Canadians living in the four provinces of Atlantic Canada and the province of British Columbia were found to have the most positive outlook on immigration, with 64 per cent of respondents in both regions disagreeing with the idea there is too much immigration to Canada. This was an increase of seven points in Atlantic Canada over the fall.

Attitudes on the economic impact of immigration also improved slightly, from 76 per cent last October to 77 per cent this month.

"Canadians' level of comfort with immigration is grounded on the belief that it is good for the country's economy, and this perspective held steady over the past six months," the institute reported.

This view was strongest in Ontario, where nearly 80 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement "overall, immigration has a positive impact on the economy of Canada."

The province where attitudes to this statement were weakest was Alberta, where 70 per cent of respondents agreed that immigration is having a positive economic effect on the country.

Age, education, income affect attitudes

Attitudes differed according to age, education and income level, with younger Canadians, university-educated Canadians and those who consider their income to be "adequate" or better expressing more positive views of immigration.

Canadians over the age of 60, those without a high school diploma and Canadians who say they are struggling financially were more likely to hold more negative views.

Differences were also clear between supporters of Canada's various federal political parties.

Three-quarters of Liberal Party and Green Party supporters disagreed that immigration levels are too high and the numbers reached 89 per cent and 84 per cent, respectively, when it came to the economic benefits of immigration.

Among New Democratic Party supporters, 86 per cent agreed that immigration has a positive economic impact.

Just under half (49 per cent) of Conservative Party of Canada supporters said immigration levels were too high, but this was down three points from October 2018. However, two-thirds of Conservative supporters agreed that immigration benefits Canada's economy.

Integration remains a concern

The survey found Canadians are almost equally divided when it comes to views on whether immigrants are adopting Canadian values after their arrival. Just over half of Canadians (51 per cent) believe immigrants are not fully integrating compared to 42 per cent who disagreed.

The percentage of respondents who felt immigrants aren't integrating declined by 10 points in Atlantic Canada, to 41 per cent, and also dropped in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, to 46 per cent, reversing an upward trend. The provinces where this concern was found to be highest were Quebec (56 per cent) and Alberta (55 per cent).

Just over half of Canadians (53 per cent) agree, however, that immigrants tend to work harder than people born in Canada and the 32 per cent who disagree with this viewpoint marked a decline of seven points from October 2018.

On the overall impact of immigration, the Environics Institute said Canadians lean toward a positive viewpoint, with 45 per cent saying immigration is making Canada a better place and only 15 per cent saying it is making Canada worse.

A third of Canadians believe immigration "has made no real difference either way" and seven per cent had no opinion.

Canadians, however, are much more in agreement when it comes to their perception of how welcoming Canada is for immigrants.

The Environics Institute found that eight in 10 Canadians said immigrants are made to feel very or somewhat welcome by public agencies in their community and by the local population.

This view was spread evenly across the country "with little variation by region," the survey found.


Canadian opinions on refugees improved in the six months since October 2018, with only 37 per cent now agreeing with the statement "most people claiming to be refugees are not real refugees." This marked a decline of four percentage points and is the lowest level found since survey's introduction in 1987.

Nearly eight in 10 respondents said refugees are made to feel very or somewhat welcome by the local population.

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