Sunday, January 03, 2021

Canada became much more pro-immigration during the pandemic

As we enter into another calendar year, and after almost a year of pandemic across the world, many articles in print and online have been taking stock of how our lives have changed and how our attitudes have changed.

One interesting one, based on surveys of Canadian attitudes by the public opinion research and polling firm, the Environics Institute, shows how Canadian attitudes towards immigration have changes in the decades since the 1970s, but particularly over the last year.

Back in the 1970s and 80s, and even well into the 90s, the percentage of Canadians who believed that there was too much immigration into Canada was between 60% and 70%, and those who disagreed languished around 30%-40%. There was a sea change in attitudes in the 1990s, and since the early 2000s those percentages have reversed, with less than 40% agreeing with such a proposition and a steady 60% saying that there is most definitely not too much immigration into the country.

Over the much shorter period of the plague year of 2020, that sea change has gained new impetus, and the curve steepened precipitously until some 66% of Canadians now think that there is not too much immigration, and the proportion that thinks that there is too much fell to around 28%.

So, unlike some countries (or at least some populist leaders) that have seen the pandemic as an excuse to double down on immigration and to stress nationalist and  nativist policies of all kinds, Canada has gone even further the other way, embracing openness, inclusiveness and internationalism.

As for why, I can only think that Canadians have been very cognizant of the fact that, during the pandemic, the country has been almost entirely dependent on essential workers and healthcare workers, the vast majority of which are demonstrably racialized and from immigrant backgrounds. This has clearly been enough to make people stop and think that, oh yes, without them we would be struggling in the dark during these lockdowns, whereas in fact, despite all our complaining and kvetching, our lives have not actually changed that much.

Recent immigrants, and their families and descendants, have been disproportionately hit by the pandemic so that the rest of us do not have to be. We owe them a huge vote of thanks, and the polling data reflects that.

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