New poll suggests most Canadians in favour some restrictions on immigration

Steve Mertl
·National Affairs Contributor

There's always been some ambivalence among Canadians when it comes to immigration but a new poll suggests immigrants themselves favour some restrictions.

The Forum Research poll conducted for the National Post found a majority of those polled, including Canadians born in other countries, favour restricting the number of qualified immigrants.

The telephone survey of 1,755 Canadians, done over two days last week with a sampling error or plus or minus two per cent 19 times out of 20, found 70 per cent thought there should be some limits on immigration.

What's interesting is that 58 per cent of new Canadians agreed with that, as did 66 per cent of Canadians whose parents were born in another country.

“It’s interesting that the attitudes are not too different [from native-born Canadians]. … To me, this is a very realistic thing," Roderic Beaujot, a professor emeritus of sociology and immigration expert at Western University, told the Post.

[ Related: Should immigrants be expected to abandon their culture? ]

“Immigrants would know that it would be difficult for Canada to admit all qualified immigrants."

Citizenship and Immigration Canada announced last month that Canada admitted 257,515 permanent residents last year, extending to seven consecutive years the highest sustained level of immigration in the country's history. Canada averaged about 30,250 more admissions per year from 2006 to 2012 than from 1996 to 2005, the department said.

The Conservatives have revamped the system to favour more skilled immigrants and those with a good grasp of English of French, but also opened the door to more temporary foreign workers while trying to expedite the removal of failed refugee claimants and convicted criminals, the Toronto Star noted in a recent story.

Despite reforms, critics of Canada's immigration policy have kept up a steady drumbeat of opposition to allowing a quarter-million newcomers into the country each year.

Immigration is generally supported as a way of compensating for Canada's low birth rate but critics complain the newcomers compete with Canadians for jobs, strain social services and don't always integrate smoothly into society here.

Most Canadians are satisfied with the number of immigrants being admitted, said Jack Jedwab, the executive director of Montreal-based think-tank Association for Canadian Studies.

“There’s still a segment of the population that has a variety of concerns about numbers, economic impacts, security issues,” said Jedwab told the Post. “And the majority of Canadians, independent of the concerns they have, feel that immigration makes a positive contribution to the country.”

Jedwab questioned the wording of the Forum Research poll question that forced respondents to pick between either admitting all qualified immigrants or imposing limits.

[ Related: New immigration system puts greater emphasis on language, age ]

He said his association's own polling earlier this month — with a similar-sized sample — suggested most Canadians, native-born or not, were not concerned about the number of immigrants.

“The general feeling is that the majority of Canadians do not feel that there are too many immigrants in the country," he told the Post.

"Do Canadians want immigrants whose skills match the economic needs? I would say they do … I think the Canadian government is attempting to respond to that."