Canadians are strongly supportive of doing more to aid refugees in Europe, according to a new poll, which suggests support is drawn along partisan lines.
Photos of a boy who drowned along with members of his family off the shore of Turkey thrust the issue of aid for Syrian refugees into the Canadian election campaign this week. Millions have fled war-ravaged Syria in recent years to seek safety in other countries, particularly those in Europe, and the boy had relatives in Canada who were looking into bring his family here.
When asked whether the migrant crisis was Europe's problem alone or whether Canada had a role to play, 70 per cent of respondents to an Angus Reid Institute poll said Canada should "step up."
Fifty-four per cent of respondents said the government should take in more refugees, 63 per cent said individuals and community groups should sponsor more refugees, and 76 per cent said Canada should send professionals, such as doctors or soldiers, to help the migrants. Twenty-three per cent said the country should do nothing.
"I think what you see is a country that's very divided on this issue more than public outcry may have anticipated," said Shachi Kurl, senior vice-president of the Angus Reid Institute. While most Canadians agree on the need to do something, she said, there is no consensus about what specifically should be done.
The Angus Reid Institute conducted the survey of 1,447 Canadians through an online panel. This method of polling does not have a probabilistic margin of error, but a comparative poll with a random sample would have a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has defended the federal government's current plan, which has so far brought in 2,374 Syrian refugees into the country up to a target of 11,300, and has pledged to accept another 10,000 people from Syria and Iraq over four years if re-elected. The NDP and Liberals have both called for Canada to bring in many more refugees, and both parties oppose the military mission against the Islamic State.
The Angus Reid Institute survey split clearly on partisan lines. For example, when asked about how they view the crisis, 37 per cent of respondents who supported the Conservative party said the migrants' claims were "bogus" and they sought to jump the immigration queue. Only 14 per cent of Liberals and 15 per cent of NDP supporters agreed.
Respondents to the poll who said they would vote Conservative were also less likely than supporters of other parties to agree to any of the options of how Canada could help the migrants.
"We're seeing a government very much under fire for its response, but the response is resonating within the Conservative base," Ms. Kurl said.
Breaking down the Conservative responses along religious lines revealed different levels of support, however. When asked what approach the country should take if similar boatloads of migrants came to Canada's shores, 48 per cent of practising Christian respondents who supported the Conservative party said Canada should be welcoming, while 35 per cent of non-practising Christians and only 28 per cent of those who said they had no religious identity agreed. The number of supporters of other religions was too small in the sample to be broken down.