OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau heads to Washington Tuesday to further strengthen the ties between Canada and the U.S. just as a new poll suggests Canadians don’t want this country heading down the same path as its southern neighbour.
But the results of the Ekos-Canadian Press survey don’t necessarily mean Canadians’ points of view are completely at odds with those who voted U.S. President Donald Trump into office, said Ekos president Frank Graves.
Ekos and the Canadian Press surveyed 4,839 Canadians via telephone between Sept. 15 and Oct. 1 as part of an ongoing effort to understand whether the same drivers exist in Canada as those behind populist movements supporting a more isolationist viewpoint around the world.
The results suggest Canada favours a more open approach – 60 per cent of those asked don’t want a “Canada First” foreign policy that mirrors the “America First” rallying cry that put Trump in office. Eighty per cent of those surveyed also disapprove of the way Trump is handling his job, and 52 per cent want to see Canada become less like the U.S.
“Canada is clearly pivoting open, you can make the case with some of the data on that,” said Graves.
“But if you look at more of the data, I’m not so sure. It’s not that clear.”
The data also suggests 22 per cent of those surveyed think Canada ought to become more isolated, a marked increase after years of the number remaining relatively flat.
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Also, among those surveyed 37 per cent think Canada’s immigration policy admits too many visible minorities. Twenty-nine per cent said they’ve experienced an incident of racism in the last month, and 33 per cent said they believe racism is becoming more common.
Ekos conducted the survey between Sept. 15 and Oct. 1, and the survey of the entire sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.4 percentage points 19 times out of 20.
Different sample sizes were polled for each question to increase the number of questions researchers were able to ask.
Ekos has been tracking attitudes towards visible minority immigration for 25 years because it serves as a way to test levels of racial intolerance in Canada, said Graves.
The question of whether it is too high was put to 1,154 people during the recent survey, and the margin of error for those findings was 2.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
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Forty-two per cent believe the right amount are being let in and 15 per cent say too few.
Graves said the incidence of those believing it’s too high peaked before the last federal election and seems to be on the decline. It’s still lower than it was in the 1990s, he said.
The survey also probed for people’s perceptions of their economic future, and the results suggest Canadians are pretty pessimistic about the way things are going, despite economic indicators to the contrary.
That, coupled with the responses on how open this country ought to be, suggests the door can’t be closed on the argument that the same economic and social frustration that’s fuelled populism elsewhere doesn’t exist here, Graves said.
“There’s clearly a significant portion of Canada that’s not going to be convinced by the whole notion that an open welcoming Canada is the right answer to the problems that they see in their lives and the country.”
What that might mean for Canada’s political landscape remains to be seen. Sixty-four per cent of those who say Canada is letting in too many visible minorities identify as Conservative supporters; 62 per cent of those who think the number is just right are Liberal.
But Graves noted that studies done in the U.S. before and after that election revealed that people who were exhibiting racial intolerance and who voted for Trump said they would have voted Democrat if that party had put forward a more progressive platform.
Maintaining support for immigration ranks high on the Liberals’ list of priorities; in the coming weeks, they’re poised to unveil how many newcomers Canada will admit in 2018.
The Liberals are keen on immigration to foster economic growth, but complicating the issue is the ongoing arrival of asylum seekers at the border prompting criticism the government has lost control of the system.
In Britain, a survey after the surprising yes vote in a referendum on leaving the EU found that nearly 73 per cent of those who voted to leave were worried about immigration levels being too high.
The Ekos survey found 41 per cent feel too many immigrants are currently being let in overall.