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Newly-arrived Syrian refugees take part in a mass at the Armenian Community Centre in Toronto on December 16, 2015. (Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Newly-arrived Syrian refugees take part in a mass at the Armenian Community Centre in Toronto on December 16, 2015. (Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canadians have different attitudes on immigrants versus refugees: poll Add to ...

A newly released federal survey on attitudes towards immigration suggests Canadians are somewhat more enthusiastic about accepting economic migrants than they are about refugees.

While 52 per cent of those polled in the Immigration Department’s annual tracking study felt the right number of immigrants were coming to Canada, 23 per cent thought it was too high.

Meanwhile, 40 per cent felt the right number of refugees was being admitted and 30 per cent thought that figure was too high.

The 2016 survey was done long before immigration and refugee policy became a centrepiece of the U.S. presidential campaign and the eventual new administration of Donald Trump, and before the question of what values immigrants to Canada ought to hold became a centrepiece of Conservative leadership politics here.

So while the data might not reflect how attitudes have shifted since those developments, it’s telling for what it was probing for in the first place, suggested Jack Jedwab, the executive vice president of the Association for Canadian Studies and co-chairman of an upcoming conference on integration and immigration.

“I think what the government is trying to get at is the issue of the extent to which people are more preoccupied by the increase in refugees that’s happening in a lot other places in the world,” he said.

While the survey did suggest some differences in viewpoints on refugees versus other classes of immigrants, Jedwab said they aren’t substantial.

“Right now, we’re seeing globally an effort on the part of elected officials to try to make those distinctions – refugees bad, economic migrants good, that’s the distinction that’s being made in the States to some extent,” he said.

“And I don’t think, based on what we’re seeing now in this poll, that we’re seeing that idea take effect here.”

Pollsters were in field between August 11 to 31, 2016, asking 1,598 Canadians for their opinions on immigration. The survey has a margin of error of 2.45 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

The survey was done ahead of the release of the immigration levels plan, published in October, and also before the federal government received a report from its economic advisory council that would recommend a massive increase in the number of immigrants to Canada, from what had been about 260,000 a year to 450,000.

The survey did probe Canadians’ appetite for an increase. Respondents were asked to what extent they’d support boosting levels of economic immigration by 100,000 people over the next five years and 42 per cent exhibited some level of support for the idea. If the number ratcheted up further to 200,000 over five years, support fell to 38 per cent.

The Liberals eventually nixed any major increase, going instead with a modest uptake in admissions to around 300,000.

While the survey is done annually, not all the questions are repeated each year, making it difficult to compare attitudes over time unless the questions are exactly the same.

There was some crossover between this year and last year’s study.

Fifty-two per cent of those polled in 2016 thought the government is accepting the right number of immigrants, down from 58 per cent of those polled in 2015.

Meanwhile, about 46 per cent of those polled in 2016 felt that refugees have a positive impact on the Canadian economy, up from the 41 per cent who felt that way in the survey done last year.

The 2016 survey results were published on the federal government’s polling research report website on Wednesday.

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