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Almost half of Canadians think country should cut immigration, says polling

Housing affordability woes spark debate
Immigration is not rising as an issue of concern across Canada, writes Mario Canseco, but Canadians are divided on its effects

Earlier this month, U.S. President Joe Biden implemented a ban on asylum seekers who cross the border from Mexico. The move, just days after a presidential election in Mexico, is seemingly at odds with the traditional views of Biden’s Democratic Party, which has always been regarded as more lenient on this particular issue than the Republican Party.

Canada is not facing the same immigration challenges that the U.S. has endured for decades. Still, housing, homelessness and poverty is now the most important issue for residents of B.C., Ontario and Atlantic Canada. Policymakers have wondered if this is the time to change the way Canada manages immigration, especially when thinking about housing starts and the future of cities.

Canadians are evenly divided when asked about the effect that immigration is having on the country. While 42 per cent (down three points since 2023) say it is positive, 44 per cent (up six points) claim it is negative. Canadians aged 18 to 34 are more likely to look at immigration in a positive light (55 per cent, down three points), but the numbers fall drastically among their counterparts aged 55 and over (37 per cent, down seven points) and aged 35 to 54 (32 per cent, down 12 points).

Canadians who voted for the Liberal Party in 2021 are more likely to perceive immigration positively (58 per cent, up one point) than those who voted for the NDP (47 per cent, down three points) or the Conservative Party (30 per cent, down four points). In fact, almost three in five Conservative voters (59 per cent, up 10 points) say that immigration has been mostly negative for Canada.

We continue to see a split in the way Canadians think the country should welcome immigrants. For 44 per cent (down one point), Canada should be a mosaic, where cultural differences within Canadian society are valued and preserved. For 42 per cent (unchanged), the concept of the melting pot—where immigrants assimilate and blend into Canadian society—is the preferred option.

Once again, Conservatives are decidedly different, with 58 per cent choosing the melting pot. The proportions are lower for Liberals (40 per cent) and New Democrats (35 per cent).

We see two-thirds of Canadians (66 per cent, down nine points) who think the hard work and talent of immigrants makes Canada better, and a similar proportion (65 per cent, unchanged) who believe immigrants should only be allowed in Canada if they adopt Canadian values—a proportion that rises to 86 per cent among Conservatives.

Still, the most eye-catching finding comes on a question about immigration levels. Almost half of Canadians (46 per cent) think the number of legal immigrants who are allowed to relocate to Canada should decrease, up seven points since 2023 and up 21 points since 2022. Only 15 per cent (down two points) would increase this number, while 31 per cent (down six points) would keep it the same.

Majorities of Canadians aged 35 to 54 (50 per cent, up six points) and aged 55 and over (59 per cent, up 15 points) say they believe there should be a reduction in the number of immigrants that Canada takes in every year, compared to just 28 per cent (up one point) among those aged 18 to 34.

Support is highest in Atlantic Canada and Ontario (each at 53 per cent), followed by

Saskatchewan and Manitoba (50 per cent), B.C. (48 per cent), Alberta (42 per cent) and Quebec (34 per cent).

The shift in attitudes that began in 2023 has solidified in 2024. In just over two years, we went from about a quarter to practically half of Canadians wanting to reduce the level of immigration. Young adults, who are greatly affected by the housing crunch, do not appear to be blaming immigrants for their current situation. It is mostly middle-aged and older Canadians who are starting to wonder if the country is already full.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted on June 1-3, 2024 among 1,001 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.