Both Canada and the United States are largely populated by immigrants and the descendants of immigrants. According to a recent Nanos survey, two-thirds of Canadians support the Liberal government’s promise to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada while a third oppose the move. In stark contrast, according to a survey published by Bloomberg in November, only 28 per cent of Americans support the Obama administration’s plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees while 11 per cent would support the plan if the refugees were screened by religion, with Christians accepted and Muslims excluded.
It is surprising that Americans, 10 times as numerous as Canadians, should be largely opposed to taking in just 40 per cent of the number of refugees Canada is accepting. This survey was conducted before the recent mass shooting in California, which some politicians have incorrectly linked to the Syrian refugee issue.
Canada and the U.S. have very different centres of political gravity and each place has been shaped by its own history, institutions, economics, and demography. Each has sociocultural values that shape and are shaped by public policy. Canadians have traditionally been more accepting of collectivity, balancing individual goods, such as personal freedom, with collective goods, such as fairness and equality of opportunity. Individual liberty alone is the dominant American ideal, their means of pursuing happiness.
Justin Trudeau’s posture of openness and globalism has been a political asset. Most Canadians like his humane stance on refugees almost as much as they like his diverse cabinet, some members of which are the talented offspring of immigrants. President Barack Obama favours humane global citizenship (and is himself the offspring of a foreign-born parent).
Despite the current apparent spasm of xenophobic sentiment (as expressed by celebrities such as Donald Trump) and the din of gun violence, research suggests that in fact Americans’ values are similar to those of Canadians – greater openness to social difference, a greater sense of personal autonomy, and a less suspicious attitude toward government.
As younger voters, women (especially single women), and America’s diverse, city-dwelling voters become more influential politically, America is changing. However, those less keen on this direction of social change (older, more conservative, whiter, more religious and patriarchal voters) will take some time to change their opinion, as the tremendous polarization of U.S. political discourse attests.
As Canada waits to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees, recent reports suggest that of the 25,000 refugees interviewed by the UN, fewer than 2,000 were interested in coming to Canada. Many are likely hoping for reunification with family members in Europe.
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