Most Canadians believe their country should do more for migrants: poll

Most Canadians believe the country needs to “step up and do its part” in the global after the image of a drowned three-year-old garnered global outrage on Thursday, but are divided along party lines about how to go about it, a new Angus Reid survey shows.

Most Canadians, 70 per cent, say has a role to play in the crisis, but only about half want the country to take in more refugees and spend more money to do it. Canadians are also paying overwhelming attention to the issue, with 90 per cent saying they have some awareness.

“There is a strong appetite to do something,” about the millions of migrants making the dangerous crossing from Turkey or northern Africa to Europe, said Shachi Kurl, senior vice president of Angus Reid Institute.

TwitterTwitterA photo of and his older brother, Galib, circulating on social media.

The online survey — conducted September 3, 2015 among a representative randomized sample of 1,447 Canadian adults who are members of the Angus Reid Forum — found 90 per cent of Canadians have some knowledge of the crisis after the image of Alan Kurdi washed up dead on a Turkish beach dominated the day’s news. The fact he and his family — all of whom perished except his father — were hoping to make it to Canadian shores sent shock waves through the federal election campaign. However, the startling image may not be the game changer some had predicted.

“Political watchers were certainly thinking this might be a turning point in the campaign, but if you look at that data, what you see is that Canadians are not only just divided on what to do… but also, divisions cut really obviously along political lines,” Kurl said.

That could be good news for the Conservatives, who have been hammered for their record on this issue and the few thousand they’ve accepted in recent years. Immigration Minister Chris Alexander’s “disastrous” interview on CBC this week added to that perception, Kurl said, but it may not play out that way.NA0905_MigrantPoll_C_JR

When asked which statement better reflects their views “The migrant crisis is a European problem — Canada doesn’t have a role to play” or “The migrant crisis is a global problem — Canada needs to step up and do its part,” 58 per cent of Conservatives said Canada should be more involved, compared to 77 per cent of Liberals and 74 per cent of New Democrats. Conservatives are also less likely to express “support for increasing the number of government-sponsored refugees to 20,000 per year at a cost of $100 million annually: 51% per cent support the investment, but only 37 per cent of Conservative to 62 per cent of both Liberals and New Democrats.

“So whatever the Conservative leader or his Cabinet may be saying about this issue, as difficult as it may be for many Canadians to hear, it also resonates with a very significant segment of Canadians and these are the people the Conservatives are looking towards to secure an election victory,” Kurl said. “One can be pretty certain (Conservative leader Stephen Harper) would not be out there saying these things if he didn’t think at minimum they would be resonating with his own base, which they appear to be.”

Similar divides emerge when respondents were asked “how many refugees should Canada sponsor and resettle over the next year?”: 77 per cent of Conservatives said 10,000 or less, compared to 51 per cent of Liberals and 54 per cent of New Democrats. Only 23 per cent of Conservatives said Canada should take in more than 10,000 refugees next year, compared to 49 percent of Liberals and 46 per cent of New Democrats.

The Conservatives have pledged to bring in 20,000 more refugees from Syria and Iraq by 2020; the Liberals 25,000 Syrians over three years; and the New Democrats 10,000 Syrians this year alone, followed by a similar increase in years to come.

None of the parties have made specific commitments to increase support for migrants on their way to or trapped in European camps regardless of country of origin.

Jeff Mitchell/Getty ImagesJeff Mitchell/Getty ImagesSyrian refugees crowd the Za’atari refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan.

Given just how “striking” the partisans divisions were among respondents, Kurl wondered if “this sentiment ‘we can’t take in more folks’ is a reaction to (Harper’s) leadership” among Conservatives, and the opposite reaction among Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP head Thomas Mulcair’s a reflection of their party policies.

“I think where there is potential problem for the Conservatives… is within a significant and important segment of Conservative party supporters and that’s Conservative Christians,” Kurl said.

Forty-five per cent of self-identified practicing Christians said they were voting Conservative. Among them, 48 per cent said yes to the statement “Canada should take a more welcoming approach to people who arrive this way” and 47 per cent said the “government should take in more refugees. Forty-two per cent of practicing Christians also support the government spending up to $100 million a year to help resettle these migrants.

RelatedJohn Ivison: Migrant crisis suddenly the biggest issue in the election campaign — and Harper’s on the high wireChris Selley: The migrants’ journey from hell

While that chunk of the Conservative base usually takes a more hardline approach on social issues like abortion and gay marriage than “government policy has borne out,” Kurl said the data shows a potential for a split in the party base on this issue. She said among soft voters, those who identify with one party but are more likely to end up voting for someone else, there’s a chance the migrant issue could change some minds.

“This is a game of inches this election so far,” she said, so “every sliver is important.”

The Angus Reid Forum is an online market research panel comprised of Canadians who offer their participation. The online survey was conducted Thursday and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 per cent.

About Ashley Csanady