Brian Laghi, Globe and Mail (Toronto), April 17, 2008
A majority of Canadians say their country bends too much in trying to make visible minorities feel at home, even as voters pat themselves on the back for being a welcoming society.
Results of a new survey for The Globe and Mail/CTV News also show substantial national fault lines on immigration, with urban Canadians more likely to support the growth of visible minority groups than their rural cousins are.
According to the poll, 61 per cent of those surveyed believe that Canada makes too many accommodations for visible minorities. In Quebec, 72 per cent of those surveyed feel that way.
At the same time, 88 per cent of Canadians believe that their community is welcoming to members of visible minority groups.
As the Conservatives move to amend Canadian immigration laws to clear a backlog, the party’s base is apparently less positive about the increasing numbers of newcomers who call themselves visible minorities.
“On the one hand, there’s a bit of self-satisfaction in terms of our record,” said Peter Donolo, a partner with the polling firm the Strategic Counsel. “But there’s also this kind of anxiety that’s most pronounced in certain groups.”
Mr. Donolo said some of the unease might stem from a spate of recent issues.
They include whether Islamic sharia law should be recognized and a Tory proposal during last year’s Ontario election to extend public funding to all faith-based schools.
In Quebec, the government called public hearings into the “reasonable accommodation” of immigrants.
The poll also found that 45 per cent of those surveyed believe new Canadians hold on to their customs and traditions for too long, only two percentage points below those who feel newcomers integrate into Canadian life at a natural and acceptable pace.
Mr. Donolo noted there were substantial differences among Canadians on the issue, depending on their age, their education, the size of their community and other factors.
For example, on the matter of whether accepting new immigrants of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds is an enriching part of the Canadian identity, 65 per cent living in cities of more than one million agreed, compared with 53 per cent of Canadians in communities of fewer than 30,000.
And on the matter of whether new Canadians hold on to their customs for too long, 54 per cent in small communities said they felt they did, while 42 per cent in the large centres said they did not.
“People who tend to feel strongest about this are people who live in the smaller communities, where there would be less contact with members of minorities,” said Mr. Donolo. “Whereas, the intensity of this feeling is much reduced in larger communities.”
Supporters of different political parties also had differing views.
When asked to characterize the fact that five million Canadians are visible minorities, 55 per cent of Liberal supporters said it was a positive development, compared with 38 per cent of Conservative backers.
By contrast, 53 per cent of NDP backers, 56 per cent of Bloc Québécois backers and 59 per cent of Greens found the numbers a good thing.
Asked whether, at 16 per cent, visible minorities make up too much of the nation’s population, 55 per cent of Canadians said it doesn’t matter.
Only 9 per cent said the proportion was too large, while 10 per cent said it was too small.
Mr. Donolo said some of the poll’s results might help to explain policy decisions made by various governments.
For example, the Conservative initiative to ban face veils at voting booths may stem from the fact that 82 per cent of Bloc Québécois voters believe the country has yielded too much in making accommodations.
“They understand that there’s some potential, particularly with switching Bloc voters,” he said. “At the same time, though, they have to be on guard because there’s a history or tendency of the media to brand them as outside the mainstream on these issues.”
He added that Conservatives want to grow their base, and have made efforts to court visible minorities.
The poll of 1,000 Canadians was conducted from last Thursday to Sunday, and is accurate to within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.