Anti-immigrant sentiment may be grabbing headlines in places like Britain and the U.S. but in the centre of Canada most Winnipeggers will tell you newcomers have had a positive effect on life in their city.

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Anti-immigrant sentiment may be grabbing headlines in places like Britain and the U.S. but in the centre of Canada most Winnipeggers will tell you newcomers have had a positive effect on life in their city.

A Probe Research Inc. survey conducted this spring and released in time for Canada Day found that six in 10 respondents described immigration as having a positive effect compared to just six per cent who perceived it as having a negative effect.

"I’m not surprised," said Lori Wilkinson, a University of Manitoba sociology professor and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Migration and Integration. Winnipeg is similar to other Canadian cities, she said from Berlin where she's meeting with German counterparts to talk about Syrian refugees, immigration systems and conducting longitudinal surveys.



"Our mindset about immigration is far more open," she said Tuesday after talking to Germans all week about immigration and how receptive people are to it. "Many European studies call you an 'immigrant' even though you're the child of immigrant," she said. "You're not really (considered) German. It can be a really marginalizing thing."

The survey - Public Perceptions of Immigration in Winnipeg - was conducted this spring and is being released in time for Canada Day, said Abdikheir Ahmed, the co-ordinator of the federally-funded Immigration Partnership Winnipeg that paid for the survey. Its findings run counter to the negative impression of immigration that many people read and hear about these days, said Ahmed.

"There are all these things going on in the U.K. and after the Brexit vote there have been lots of xenophobic attacks against immigrants," he said. "For us, that's not the case," said Ahmed, who immigrated to Canada.

"The reality for Winnipeggers is different than what is normally portrayed by mainstream media and politicians," he said. The survey was first conducted in 2015 and the results from 2016 mirror the findings of last year. It's no surprise to Business Council of Manitoba CEO Don Leitch that most Winnipeggers see immigration having a positive effect on the city.



"Immigration is critical to the lifeblood of our businesses," Leitch said. Newcomers fill skill shortages and bring new ideas and entrepreneurship, he said. "Economically, we've always been dependant on immigration."

The Winnipeggers most likely to see immigration having a positive effect are those with children in the home (70 per cent), the survey said.

"In the school system, kids have interactions with newcomers," said Wilkinson. "...They have a bigger network and possibility of interactions," she said. Winnipeggers without immigrants among their network of friends and acquaintances were less likely than average to see the benefits of immigration, the survey found. Close to 48 per cent of those who didn't know any newcomers saw immigration as having a positive effect on the city compared to 63 per cent who knew newcomers.

Those with a Grade 12 education or less were less likely to see immigration's benefits. Just 35 per cent saw it having a positive effect compared to 65 per cent of post-secondary graduates.

Winnipeggers did have a bone to pick with newcomers, the survey found. Most respondents - 65 per cent - felt that immigrants should try harder to adapt to the Canadian way of life. Newcomers hanging on to some of their ways isn't necessarily a bad thing, said Ahmed.

"It (cultural diversity) is a normal thing and a healthy thing that enriches us. We learn from each other and borrow from each other's cultures," said Ahmed. "The job is for us is to educate people."

Winnipeggers also had a bone to pick with Winnipeggers. In the capital of Friendly Manitoba, 84 per cent of the survey respondents said people should try harder to be more welcoming.

The city-wide survey was conducted by phone with a random and representative sampling of 600 adults living in Winnipeg between Mar. 28 and April 4. With a sample that size, results are within plus or minus four percentage points of what they would have been if the entire adult population of the city had been interviewed.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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