Support for immigration in Canada has dropped since last year
The Environics Institute, a Canadian research agency that conducts public opinion surveys and collects data on government, social and economic issues, has released its annual study on Canadian public opinion on immigration.
The report found that over the past year, Canadians have become pessimistic about the direction of the country and the economy. It notes that they have doubts about the government’s ability to plan for future challenges. This includes the perceived challenges posed by immigration.
The Environics Institute worked in partnership with the Century Initiative, which is a non-partisan organization that aims to implement policies and programs that would increase Canada’s population to 100 million by 2100.
The study is conducted each year to gauge Canadian opinions on immigration and refugees. It is based on telephone interviews conducted with 2,002 Canadians between September 4 and 17, 2023. A sample of this size drawn from the population produces results accurate to within plus or minus 2.2 percentage points in 19 out of 20 samples.
Canada’s population reached a major milestone this year, hitting 40 million people. This is an increase of over one million people in a year. International migration is responsible for 96% of the population increase. Some respondents perceive this to be a contributing factor in Canada’s strained healthcare system and the lack of affordable housing.
Despite these issues, the report notes that as in past years, very few respondents singled out immigration or refugees as the top problem facing the country. It says a strong majority of Canadians still believe that immigration is beneficial for the economy.
The report explains that, as relates to immigration, Canadian’s are concerned about the number of immigrants in Canada but not about immigrants themselves. As with the 2022 report, they are more likely to say that newcomers make their communities a better place.
Environics concludes that Canadians’ recent concerns about immigration’s effect on housing are more a function of media narratives about a housing crisis than local developments or direct experience.
Too much immigration?
When asked if there is too much immigration in Canada, 4 out of 10 respondents strongly or somewhat strongly agreed. This is a rise of 17 percentage points over the 2022 numbers. However, looking at it another way, that means 6 in 10 did not feel that way.
Still, this is the largest year-over-year change recorded for this question since tracking began in 1977. The most notable change was seen among Ontario respondents where agreement with that statement is now at 50%.
Comparable results were found in British Columbia, Canadians in top income brackets, first-generation Canadians, and men.
It was also noted that 64% of homeowners who are worried about the affordability of their home are likely to agree that there is too much immigration in Canada.
Politics also plays a part in the numbers. The report found that, as in years past, political affiliation has an impact on how Canadians view immigration. For example, 64% of Conservative party supporters believe there is too much immigration (an increase of 21 points over last year) but has risen just 11 points to 29% among liberal supporters and 9 points to 21% for those who support the NDP.
Why the change?
Among those who support the idea that Canada accepts too many immigrants, 38% responded that they have concerns about immigrants affecting the availability and/or affordability of housing. This is 23 points higher than in 2022.
Some respondents believe that immigrants are a drain on public finances (25%) or bad for the economy and employment (25%). Others are concerned about overpopulation (19%) or believe that immigration is being poorly managed by the government (10%).
It is notable that in 2022 there were more Canadians who believed that immigration was a threat to Canadian or Quebecois culture, identity, and values (Down to 8% from 16%). Very few were found to believe that immigrants cause security or public health threats, or object to the number of immigrants coming as students to study in Canadian universities and colleges.
Support for immigration levels
When respondents were asked if Canada needs more immigration to increase its population, public opinion was divided evenly between support and disagreement (47% each).
This represents an 11 percentage point decline in agreement since 2022 and is the first decrease seen since 1993.
The sharpest decline in support for accepting more immigrants was seen in Ontario and Canadians in the top income bracket (both down 18 points) as well as first-generation Canadians (down 16 points).
Albertans, Canadians with no post-secondary education, those who live in rural communities, and Conservative party supporters are also less apt to believe that Canada needs more immigrants.
Immigration and the economy
Most Canadians feel that immigration is good for Canada’s economy. However, when compared to last year, the numbers show that there is somewhat less belief in immigration’s positive economic impact.
Three-quarters of Canadians strongly (36%) or somewhat agree (38%) that immigration is beneficial for the economy. This represents a drop of 11 points since 2022 and shows that agreement is at its lowest point since 1998.
As with other sections of the study, support was weakest among supporters of the federal Conservative Party (63%) as well as homeowners who are very worried about housing affordability (59%).
Immigrants make Canada a better place
Despite the decline in support for immigration levels, when asked, more than 42% of Canadians responded that immigrants make their community a better place.
The most positive response came from Atlantic Canada (49%) and British Columbia (51%). It was also high among Canadians with a university degree and supporters of the federal Liberal and New Democratic parties.
Supporters said it was because they value immigrants' contribution to multiculturalism and diversity, in addition to helping the local economy and boosting local population growth.
Housing affordability in Canada
The report comes at a time when Canada, along with much of the globe, is experiencing an affordability crisis. This is particularly true for housing. The average price of a home in Canada now exceeds $650,000 according to the Canadian Real Estate Association.
The results are in contrast to the 2022 report in which nearly 70% of Canadians were found to disagree or strongly disagree when asked if Canada’s immigration levels were too high. It was the most support for immigration recorded since the annual survey began 46 years ago.
Further, the 2022 Environics report found that just 15% of respondents believed that immigrants were driving up home prices and making them unaffordable for others.
Environics 2023 says more Canadians are now connecting the housing crisis to immigration, “but very few see this happening on the ground in their own communities”. The institute believes that this reaction stems from the broader issue of a lack of confidence in the economy rather than the increased presence of newcomers in their communities.
Immigration Levels Plan 2024-2026
Each year, Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) releases an Immigration Levels Plan that sets targets for the number of permanent resident admissions into Canada for the coming three years.
The Levels Plan for 2024-2026 is expected to be released on, or by, November 1st.
Canada’s government sets immigration targets so it can plan ahead to ensure that there is sufficient infrastructure in place for newcomers to have the support they need, such as settlement services, housing, and access to healthcare. This is all while balancing the needs of Canada’s current population.
In the 2023-2025 plan, IRCC introduced Canada’s highest-ever immigration targets, going as high as 500,000 new permanent residents each year by the end of 2025.
In August, Immigration Minister Marc Miller told Bloomberg news that he does not anticipate that the targets for 2024-2026 will be lower than they are presently. The minister supports immigration as a key tool in supporting Canada’s economy.
Census data from 2021 found that 23% of Canada’s population is an immigrant and projected that this would rise to 34% by 2041.