Canadians split on issue of immigration, survey finds

The Angus Reid Institute found 49 per cent of surveyed Canadians want to see the federal government’s 2018 target of 310,000 immigrants reduced. In 2014, 36 per cent said it should be reduced.

'The question is if this is a moment in time or is this a larger trend,' says Angus Reid executive director

A person holds a flag during a Canadian citizenship ceremony in Toronto in 2016. A new survey finds Canadians are split as to whether or not the country is accepting too many immigrants. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

A new survey has found half of Canadians want to see the number of immigrants coming to Canada lowered.

The Angus Reid Institute found 49 per cent of surveyed Canadians want to see the federal government's 2018 target of 310,000 immigrants reduced. In 2014, 36 per cent said it should be reduced.

In contrast, 31 per cent said the target should stay the same. Six per cent wanted to see more immigration.

"For the first time in a while, we are seeing Canadians more inclined to say that we should be decreasing the amount of immigration, and fewer Canadians saying that we should stick with the status quo, in that we should keep those numbers levels or actually increase them," Angus Reid executive director Shachi Kurl told Renée Filippone, guest host of CBC's The Early Edition.

"Against that backdrop, we're actually seeing real immigration numbers rising."

Refugees, irregular migrants

Kurl says Canadians have been polled on immigration since 1975 and it has always been a divisive issue.

The recent shift to preferring fewer immigrants, she surmised, could be because of an increase in irregular migration and Canada taking in refugees.

"For many Canadians, we see this as our finest moment and something to be very proud of," she said. "For many other Canadians, that comes with a great deal of anxiety and not necessarily the 'buy in' that we assume is there.

"I think that all of that is combining to lead to this moment of pushback. The question is if this is a moment in time or is this a larger trend, we don't know that yet."

Something to 'grapple' with

Chris Friesen, director of settlement with the Immigrant Services Society of B.C., said hearing mixed support for immigrants in Canada can be challenging and discouraging.

The society provides immigrants and refugees with language classes, housing and employment supports, among other services, as they integrate into Canada.

50 people from 40 different countries received their Canadian citizenship certificates in Langley, B.C., on Canada Day 2018. (CBC)

"I don't think the public fully understands or comprehends the numbers," Friesen said, arguing that higher immigration will be required to fill looming shortages in the labour market.

"This is something that we're all going to have to grapple with as we feel the impact of accelerated retirement and declining birth rate."

He says without further immigration to stimulate the economy, governments may have to increase taxes or reduce social services with an insufficient workforce.

Election issue

​Kurl says it's not clear if this will be the main issue during the expected 2019 federal election campaign, but, "It would seem that Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals appear quite comfortable doubling down and making this an issue around which they want to make the ballot question."

"They want voters deciding do you want to be on our side or do you want to be on the other side of this debate," she said.

Angus Reid's Shachi Kurl says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals are comfortable with the issue of immigration heading into the 2019 federal election. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

The poll was self-commissioned by the Angus Reid Institute. It was an online survey conducted from July 25-30, and 1,500 Canadians who are members of the Angus Reid Forum were polled.

A probability sample of this size would have a margin of error of +/- 2.2 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

Listen to the full interview with Shachi Kurl:

The Angus Reid Institute found 49 per cent of surveyed Canadians want to see the federal government's 2018 target of 310,000 immigrants reduced. In 2014, 36 per cent said it should be reduced. 7:02

With files from Clare Hennig and The Early Edition

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