The Canada Project

A new survey explores what makes us Canadian

The Canada Project, a major poll of Canadians, finds a welcoming but wary country, where the starkest divides are generational

As the 150th anniversary of Confederation approaches, Canadians are still writing the story of this country.

A major survey of 1,515 Canadians conducted as part of The Canada Project shows that in an uncertain world, Canadians are welcoming but wary. Most are still eager to accept Syrian refugees, but they want stronger security along the Canada-U.S. border. They’re open to the notion of screening immigrants for Canadian values.

We’re still a patriotic bunch—92 per cent would cheer for a Canadian national team against a team from another country, and 76 per cent would cheer for “Canada’s team” in the Stanley Cup playoffs, even if it wasn’t their local team.

But that doesn’t mean we’re convinced of the nation’s perfection. Large majorities are concerned about discrimination, and eager to see the wealthiest Canadians contribute more to the country’s success. On important issues—a carbon tax, the monarchy—Canadians are divided.

And the starkest divisions are often generational, not regional. Millennial Canadians, the youngest cohort in the Abacus survey, born between 1980 and 2000, were less likely than older respondents to support screening immigrants for Canadian values. They were also likelier to be willing to pay a carbon tax, and less likely to know how to skate backwards on ice.

RELATED: 24 facts from the Canada Project

“Millennials are the children of Boomers, but on many things, they are very different,” Abacus Data CEO David Coletto told Maclean’s.

The survey was conducted online by Abacus Data on behalf of Maclean’s and other Rogers Media properties from April 4 to 5. A random sample of panellists were invited to complete the survey from a large representative panel of more than 500,000 Canadians. The data were weighted according to census data to ensure the sample matched Canada’s population according to age, gender, educational attainment and region. (It’s hard to assign margins of error for such online surveys. The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of 1,515 would be +/- 2.6 per cent, 19 times out of 20.)

Family members from Somalia are helped into Canada by RCMP officers along the U.S.-Canada border near Hemmingford, Que., on Friday, February 17, 2017. A number of refugee claimants are braving the elements to illicitly enter Canada. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

Family members from Somalia are helped into Canada by RCMP officers along the U.S.-Canada border near Hemmingford, Que., on Friday, February 17, 2017. A number of refugee claimants are braving the elements to illicitly enter Canada. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

Among the survey’s top results:

In the main, Canadians are open to welcoming more Syrian refugees—57 per cent agree. But 70 per cent agree security along the Canada-U.S. border should increase. And 84 per cent agree that new immigrants should be screened to ensure they share Canadian values, including 50 per cent who strongly agree. The notion of screening newcomers was a centrepiece of Kellie Leitch’s attention-grabbing campaign for the federal Conservative party leadership, although her inability to explain details of that policy put an early cap on support for her candidacy.

Canadians are worried about discrimination. Some 62 per cent agree that Islamophobia is a problem, and 74 per cent say Indigenous people face extensive discrimination.

Respondents were wide open to a few rounds of tax-the-rich. Seventy-five per cent disagree that the rich pay enough taxes. And 86 per cent agree that governments should do more to make housing more affordable. This was especially true in British Columbia, where housing really isn’t affordable, but also in Atlantic Canada, where prices are lower but so are incomes.

Just as there’s broad agreement on big issues, so is there intriguing discord on others. By 56 per cent to 44 per cent, respondents to the survey were unwilling to pay a carbon tax to deal with climate change. Nor was opinion evenly distributed on the question: residents of B.C., Atlantic Canada and Quebec were likelier to back a carbon tax out of their own wallet. Residents of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario were likelier to oppose one.

Should Canada remain a monarchy after the day, surely still long distant, when Queen Elizabeth’s epic reign ends? Canadians answer: sure, probably, on balance. Some 56 per cent agreed with keeping the monarchy, against 44 per cent who disagree. Support for the monarchy was lowest in Quebec, though not all that low, at 35 per cent.

Canadians were also divided on whether they’d be willing to pay more taxes for shorter health care wait times. Forty-five per cent thought it was a good idea; 55 per cent disagreed. Millennials and members of Generation X were likelier to agree; older respondents, who perhaps have noticed that higher taxes don’t always correlate with shorter waits, were less likely.

To be sure, there are plenty of issues on which support doesn’t vary by age. Our youngest respondents were about as likely as our oldest to support a tax on foreigners purchasing Canadian houses; about as likely (very) to consider themselves “middle-class”; as reluctant to visit the United States during the Trump presidency (a little less than half in every age group said Trump makes them “less likely” to visit the U.S.); and as likely to pick British Columbia as the province they’d most want to live in, by far the most popular choice.

The Canada Project

But ask whether Canadians should be screened to ensure they share Canadian values and you get nearly a 30-point gap between Millennials (38 per cent “strongly agree”) and pre-Boomers (65 per cent). Half of Millennials were strongly or somewhat willing to pay a carbon tax, compared to 36 per cent of pre-Boomers and 43 per cent of Boomers. The youngest respondents are half as likely as the oldest to agree that Canadians are “not patriotic enough,” and more than three times as likely to believe marijuana should be available for sale in convenience stores (though Millennials were the age cohort least likely to drink alcohol daily or a few times a week. Maybe they’re getting by on pot.)

Millennials are markedly likelier than their older compatriots to get into a self-driving car, given the option, and are three times likelier to have used Uber. Older forms of odd transport are less familiar: Millennials were, by more than 10 points, less likely than other age groups to know how to skate backwards.

The easygoing attitudes of the young don’t always last, of course. Jacques Parizeau’s father used to tell him that if you’re not a communist at 20, you won’t be very interesting when you’re 40. But long-term trends on some topics, including same-sex marriage, suggest that some opinions do stick with generations as they age, moving as they do from the fringe to the mainstream.

The Abacus poll should be required reading, then, to anyone—an advertiser, a political strategist—eager to reach the youngest consumers and voters. They’re the next mainstream. Happy Canada Day.


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