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Transatlantic poll shows Canadians have much to learn about immigration


Canada is one of the few developed countries where immigration is not one of the hot elements on the political stove.

Even though Canada has among the highest proportion of immigrants of any country, a recent cross-Atlantic opinion poll of eight countries found Canadians are most satisfied with how they're integrating immigrants.

However, the sweeping poll of most of the biggest countries in Europe and North America may stimulate a more sophisticated discussion of immigration among Canadians, who admit they tend not to closely follow the issue.

Many Canadians feel self-satisfied about their tolerant approach to immigrants compared to Europeans and Americans, who have experienced the rise of hard-right groups opposing the arrival of Muslims, Hispanics and others.

Last month's sickening slaughter of 77 Norwegians, most of them teenagers, by anti-immigration crusader Anders Breivik only serves to heighten the feeling that Canadians are relatively at peace with their country having the world's highest immigration rate per capita.

But the poll by Transatlantic Trends suggests Canadians may have surprising things to learn from Europeans and Americans, who tend to be bolder about discussing the pros and cons of immigration.

For starters, the respected polling organization reveals that Canadians don't really follow immigration news, not as much as people in the Netherlands, United States, Germany or Italy.

Indeed, even though Canadians are the least inclined to disapprove of how their politicians are handling immigration, only 44 per cent of Canadians say they follow immigration issues closely, compared to 62 per cent of Americans and 69 per cent of the Europeans surveyed.

This lack of awareness could be a result of immigration virtually never rising as an election issue in Canada, since the major parties all support robust immigration levels and are worried about losing immigrants' votes.

One of the many issues Canadians are ignorant about is the country's immigration levels.

For instance, the average Canadian believes 39 per cent of the population is made up of immigrants.

The real Canadian figure is 20 per cent. That compares to 14 per cent in the U.S., 13 per cent in France, 11 per cent in Britain and the Netherlands and eight per cent in France.

Politically speaking, in addition, Canadians may be surprised to learn that worry about immigration is by no means confined to right-wing Europeans.

Even though right-wing Dutch are the most likely to oppose immigration policies, in Germany and France the strongest opposition comes from leftwing voters, according to Transatlantic Trends, which surveyed 1,000 people in each of the eight countries.

The Transatlantic poll also challenges the widespread misconception in Canada that Europeans are mostly worried about newcomers who are Muslim.

In fact, the Dutch, Italians and the French are no more likely to be skeptical about integrating Muslims than any other foreigner.

The poll reveals it is Canadians, Americans and Spaniards who are most inclined to think that Muslim immigrants are doing worse than other fresh arrivals at mixing into society.

The international poll also counters the comfortable belief held by many Canadians that Europeans don't want to bring in more immigrants because they are less generous of heart.

But the survey reveals that Germans, Dutch, Spaniards, Italians and French are actually more ready than Canadians to say that "all immigrants, both legal and illegal, should have access to state-sponsored health care."

It's not as if Canadians aren't trying to count the costs of immigration, either. A majority of people in every country surveyed, including Canada, believe that immigrants benefit more from health and welfare services than they contribute in taxes.

With the global economy appearing to head into another downturn, there may be reason for Canadians to heed the Transatlantic poll's warning that attitudes toward newcomers tend to harden whenever individuals find their personal finances suffering.
 

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