Keith Neuman is executive director, and Michael Adams is founder and president, of the Environics Institute for Survey Research.
The past few years have not been good ones for immigrants and multicultural diversity – worldwide or in Canada. At the global level, the flow of migrants is now higher than at any time in human history. A growing part of this flow comes from refugees fleeing conflict zones, placing increasing pressure on European countries that are struggling to maintain policies of openness and accommodation. Canada continues to accept more than 200,000 immigrants each year, but new federal government policies are tightening the rules and making the country less welcoming. Some commentators have cited anecdotal evidence that the mainstream public is feeling less comfortable with the country's growing ethnic diversity. The former Quebec government's proposed charter of secular values was a flashpoint in that province, and now appears ready for a comeback in a milder form.
In this context, it would be understandable to find that Canadians' attitudes about immigration and multiculturalism have soured, but this is not the case. The Environics Institute's latest Focus Canada survey – conducted last month and updating trends dating back to the 1980s – shows that Canadian attitudes about these issues have held steady or grown more positive over the past three to five years. The public continues to believe that immigration is good for the economy, and is more confident about the country's ability to manage refugees and potential criminal elements. Canadians remain divided about accepting refugees who would not otherwise qualify under the rules, but opinions on this issue have remained stable since 2010.
Canadians continue to identify multiculturalism as one of the country's most important symbols, and this view has strengthened since 2010. The most significant ongoing public concern is about immigrants not adopting so-called Canadian values; this remains the majority view but this concern has diminished since 2012. Moreover, there is now broad consensus that someone born abroad is every bit as likely to be a good citizen as someone born in the country: 95 per cent who were surveyed concurred with this statement, up from 89 per cent who did so when asked in 2011.
Another important trend is the public's growing acknowledgment of the challenges facing visible minority groups in Canada. Increasing proportions say there is ongoing discrimination against Muslims, aboriginal peoples and, to a lesser extent, black people and South Asians. And perhaps even more notable is the finding that there is growing recognition among Canadians that ethnic and racial groups need support from society at large to address these challenges.
Across the country, opinions sometimes vary by group in a predictable pattern, but there are also counterintuitive findings. Quebec is often seen as least hospitable to newcomers, and on some questions this proves to be the case. For example, Quebeckers continue to be more likely than other Canadians to say immigrants are not adopting the right values. But they are also the least concerned about the number of immigrants arriving on our shores, and the most cognizant about discrimination against Muslims. Nationally, the growth in positive attitudes on some aspects of immigration and multiculturalism is most evident among Canadians with the lowest levels of education, which may signal that fundamental societal change is under way. Finally, across the political spectrum, federal Conservative Party supporters remain among the least supportive of immigration and ethnic diversity (especially in comparison with NDP supporters), but on some measures, they show the most positive movement in the past few years.
This latest survey is by no means the last word on where the country is heading, nor is it the case that every Canadian is embracing immigration and ethnic diversity. What the findings do tell us – through empirically grounded facts – is that, amidst the noise of global ethnic conflict, grim warnings about domestic terrorism and a lethargic economy that is failing many, most of us are keeping the faith in Canada as the most welcoming multicultural society on the planet.