More than half of Canadians want the federal government to accept fewer immigrants than it is planning for in 2023, a new poll shows – a rise from one in three in March.
The poll also found that 55 per cent of Canadians want Canada to accept fewer international students than the 900,000 expected by the government this year.
A Nanos poll for The Globe and Mail found a rise of almost 20 percentage points in the past six months in the number of Canadians who think this country should accept fewer immigrants than Ottawa’s 2023 target of 465,000.
Fifty-three per cent of those polled said they want to see Canada accept fewer immigrants than the federal plan, compared with 34 per cent in March. Just over a third say they want Ottawa to accept about the same number as projected while 8 per cent think Canada should accept more.
Nik Nanos, chairman of Nanos Research, said pressure on housing was a factor in the polling results. He said the responses reflected “the intersection of the pressure on housing affordability with views on immigration.”
They are probably “more about the economic pressure Canadians feel they are under, especially the cost of housing than anything else.
“Regardless of Canada’s tradition of welcoming newcomers, there is a reality that people are wondering where the new people will live and what it might mean in terms of even more pressure on housing.”
In its 2023-2025 plan for immigration levels, Ottawa set its target for this year at 465,000 new permanent residents, with a target of 485,000 in 2024 and another 500,000 in 2025.
Marc Miller, Canada’s new Immigration Minister, indicated last month that Canada is on track to bring in a record 900,000 international students this year, roughly triple the number of foreign students a decade ago.
The poll found that more than half of Canadians want fewer foreign students than Ottawa’s projection, with just under a third saying they think Canada should accept that amount. Seven per cent want more international students than the federal target.
At the federal Liberals’ cabinet retreat in Charlottetown last month, new Housing Minister Sean Fraser – the former immigration minister – floated a possible cap on the number of students Canada allows in.
The number of international students in Canada has more than doubled since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took office in 2015, government data shows. At the end of 2022, it sat at 807,260.
“The reality is we’ve got temporary immigration programs that were never designed to see such explosive growth in such a short period of time,” Mr. Fraser said at the cabinet retreat.
He noted that unlike the permanent-resident immigration programs, where the government sets targets each year, the study permit program is a temporary-resident program that is driven by demand and doesn’t have a set cap.
The growth of the program for international students is taking place in concentrated regions of Canada, he said, putting an “unprecedented level of demand” on the job market but even “more pronounced” demand on the housing market.
The poll of 1,044 Canadians, conducted by phone and online, found that Canadians in different provinces had differing views on immigration and accepting international students.
In the Prairies, people were most in favour of curbing immigration, with 61 per cent saying Canada should accept fewer immigrants than Ottawa’s 465,000 target.
But in B.C., only 43 per cent supported reducing immigration to below the government target.
Quebec had the highest support (59.7 per cent) for reducing the number of international students, compared with 48 per cent in British Columbia.
The poll found that among 35- to 54-year-olds, 57 per cent wanted Canada to allow fewer foreign students. And among Canadians age 55 and older, there was 52.9-per-cent support for accepting fewer numbers.
Lori Wilkinson, the University of Manitoba’s Canada Research Chair in Migration Futures, said attitudes toward immigration “are shifting to the negative,” partly because political parties are using “scapegoating tactics” – including on housing issues – which is fuelling anti-immigrant feeling.
“According to many international studies, Canada has been the most accepting of immigration for many decades. Over 75 per cent of Canadians were supportive of newcomer arrivals. We stood out in terms of our willingness to accept migration compared to all G7 and other wealthy nations. That is hardly surprising as 23 per cent of the population of Canada was not born here. Another 18 per cent are the children of newcomers,” she said.
“Some political parties have erroneously blamed immigrants and international students for the current housing shortage. This is a lazy, incomplete answer. Provincial and federal governments have, for years, ignored the housing and homelessness problems. Each blamed the other for inaction. And, when municipalities tried to address it, they failed too.”
The Nanos poll of 1,044 Canadians aged 18 and over was conducted both by phone and online between Sept. 2 and 4. It had a margin of error of three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.