The past few years have not been good ones for immigrants and multicultural diversity – worldwide or in Canada. Globally, the flow of migrants is now higher than ever before in human history. A growing part of this flow comes from refugees fleeing conflict zones, placing increasing pressure on European countries that are struggling to maintain policies of openness and accommodation.
Canada continues to accept over 200,000 immigrants each year. However new federal government policies are tightening the rules and making the country less welcoming. The former Quebec government’s proposed charter of secular values was a flashpoint in that province. It now appears ready for a comeback in a milder form.
This would be understandable if Canadians’ attitudes about immigration and multiculturalism have soured. But this is not the case. The Environics Institute’s latest “Focus Canada” survey – conducted last month with revised trends dating back to the 1980s – shows that Canadian attitudes about these issues have held steady or grown more positive over the past five years. The public continues to believe that immigration is good for the economy, and is more confident about the country’s ability to manage refugees and potential criminal elements.
Canadians continue to identify multiculturalism as one of the country’s most important symbols, and this view has strengthened since 2010. The most significant ongoing public concern is about immigrants not adopting so-called Canadian values; despite remaining the majority view, this concern has diminished since 2012.
Another important trend is the public’s growing acknowledgment of the challenges facing visible minority groups in Canada. Increasing proportions say there is ongoing discrimination against Muslims, aboriginal peoples and, to a lesser extent, blacks South Asians. More notably, it was found that there is growing recognition among Canadians that ethnics and racial groups need support from society at large to address these challenges.
Quebec is often seen as least hospitable to newcomers. For example, Quebeckers continue to be more likely than other Canadians to believe immigrants are not adopting the right values. However, they are also the least concerned about the number of immigrants arriving on Canadian shores, and the most cognizant about discrimination against Muslims. Nationally, the growth in positive attitudes on some aspects of immigration and multiculturalism is most evident among Canadians with the lowest levels of education, which may signal that fundamental societal change is under way.
Finally, across the political spectrum, supporters of the federal Conservative Party of Canada remain among the least supportive of immigration and ethnic diversity.
This latest survey is by no means the last word on where the country is heading, nor is it the case that every Canadian is embracing immigration and ethnic diversity. However, what the findings do tell us, through empirically grounded facts, is that amidst the increase in global ethnic conflict, grim warnings about domestic terrorism and a lethargic economy that is failing many, most of us are keeping the faith in Canada as the most welcoming multicultural society on the planet.