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A pro-immigration supporter attends a rally near the Canada-U.S. border in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., Saturday, October 19, 2019.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Canadians as a whole continue to support the number of immigrants arriving in the country and the benefits newcomers bring to the economy, despite attempts from some political parties to make immigration and refugees a wedge issue during the election campaign, according to a new survey.

The Environics Institute poll, provided to The Globe and Mail, was conducted in the final weeks of the election campaign and asked Canadians to identify the most important issue facing the country. Only 2 per cent of respondents said immigration was the most significant problem, compared with the leading response of environment and climate change, at 24 per cent, and the economy at 22 per cent.

Keith Neuman, senior associate at the Environics Institute, says the recent surge in asylum seekers at the Canada-U.S. land border, the emergence of a People’s Party opposed to multiculturalism and increasing animosity toward migrants around the world do not appear to have influenced Canadians’ opinions about immigration.

“It has not been significant enough to become an issue in the recent federal election. Our trend data show that general public sentiments about immigrants and refugees have remained remarkably stable, if not improving, over the last couple of years despite events happening in Canada and outside that lead many people to think that sentiments are declining,” Mr. Neuman said.

The survey found that 63 per cent of respondents disagreed with the notion that there is too much immigration in Canada, compared with 34 per cent who agreed there are too many newcomers and 4 per cent who had no opinion on the matter. However, as with many questions in the survey, respondents were more divided along party lines.

NDP supporters were the most supportive of current immigration levels in Canada, with 79 per cent saying they disagree there are too many newcomers, followed by Liberals at 74 per cent, Greens at 69 per cent, the Bloc Québécois at 64 per cent and 45 per cent of Conservatives. The majority – 51 per cent – of Conservative respondents agreed that immigration levels are too high in Canada.

“People who are uncomfortable with immigration, who may not be particularly attentive to, say, climate change and some other issues, I think those people have gravitated towards the Conservative Party," Mr. Neuman said. “The Conservative Party has attracted that socially and economically conservative base.”

Conservative respondents were also the least supportive when asked whether immigration is good for the economy, with just 68 per cent agreeing with the statement, compared with 90 per cent of Liberals, 89 per cent of New Democrats, 82 per cent of Greens and 77 per cent of Bloc Québécois supporters.

While the Conservative platform included plans to increase economic immigration, the issue did not feature prominently in the party’s election campaign. Leader Andrew Scheer waited until the final weeks of the campaign to travel to Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, the small Quebec border town where more than 52,000 asylum seekers have crossed into Canada since 2017, to highlight his party’s plan to work with the United States to end the crossings.

Mr. Neuman said the border was not a politically risky issue for Mr. Scheer to go after during the election campaign.

“Talking about securing the border and making sure it’s managed is a pretty safe issue," Mr. Neuman said. “That’s very different than questioning who should come and how many [immigrants] should come.”

Mr. Neuman said Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada was the only party to take a position against mass immigration and centre its campaign on the issue.

The poll surveyed 2,008 Canadians by telephone interviews between Oct. 7 - 20; the margin of error is plus or minus 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The survey was a part of the Environics Institute’s public opinion research program, Focus Canada, which has conducted polling on Canadian attitudes about immigration and refugees, among other topics, since 1976.

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