Immigration support by Canadians at all-time high

Support for immigration in Canada is at an all-time high, suggests a new study that tracked attitudes about newcomers to the country over the last 40 years.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate, and Governor General David Johnston attended a citizenship ceremony in Ottawa this summer. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Support for immigration in Canada is at an all-time high, suggests a new study that tracked attitudes about newcomers to the country over the last 40 years.

The study by the Institute for Research on Public Policy found that Canadians think favourably of immigration despite recessions, terrorism and a changing political landscape over the years.

The attitude is unique in western countries and stems from two strong Canadian beliefs.

"One is that people believe that immigration is a boon to the economy, partly because we select immigrants on the basis of skills and we don't have a border with Mexico so we don't have unskilled immigrants coming in without authorization. On the cultural side, we have this policy called multiculturalism that sort of became part of the Canadian identity and one of the points of pride distinguishing Canada from the U.S.," study author Jeffrey Reitz told the CBC's Louise Elliott.

The study looked at a cross-section of polls done by companies like Gallup, Environics and EKOS since the mid-1970s. Not only has support for immigration stayed high, but it's surged in the past six years, at a time when such support has dropped in the U.S.and Europe. 

In 2004, EKOS found 63 per cent of Canadians supported current or higher levels of immigration and by 2010, after a sharp recession, that number jumped to 67 per cent.

The report also noted that Canadians in poorer parts of the country are the most likely to support immigration.

"We have the anomaly that the areas of Canada that have the most challenging economic circumstances, especially Atlantic Canada but also in the Prairies, they're the most positive places on immigration because of this belief that immigration helps the economy," said Reitz.

Other immigration experts agree and say Canadians support the federal government's policies that are bringing in skilled workers.  

"The rules have been changed to bring in economically sufficient immigrants, people who create jobs and wealth for this country while maintaining our humanitarian balance," said Richard Kurland, an immigration lawyer in Vancouver.

Some of Canada's immigration-related policies have been controversial but Reitz said they've helped the Conservatives build a reputation as being pro-immigrant, while at the same time appeasing their political base – Conservative voters are the least likely to support high immigration levels.

Reitz said they do, however, support Ottawa's attempts to integrate new Canadians into mainstream society.

"The message …from the Conservatives that multiculturalism is fine but we're going to emphasize integration of people into the mainstream. In a way that's clever because Canadians do want immigrants to integrate into the mainstream. I think it's one reason why Canadian multiculturalism seems to be popular here whereas it's been rejected in Europe because the government has always made it clear the goal of multiculturalism is to integrate people into the mainstream," he said.

Reitz said the government's social conservative values are endorsed by immigrants and that Conservatives have been able to win their support and that's contributed to Canadians' attitudes about immigration.

"The fact that the Conservatives have been successful in getting immigrant support is one of the features of our political landscape that helps us maintain this pro-immigration mindset," he said.