Douglas Todd: Canadians are more happy than xenophobic

One of the more positive overall indicators, but one that does not mean the absence of racism and discrimination, just the relative incidence compared to other countries (Globe editorial: The problem with Ottawa’s plan to consult the public on racism? Ottawa itself presents more realistic view):

Immigrating to Canada makes people happier, according to the United Nations’ 2018 World Happiness Report, which confirms Canadians are among the most tolerant and welcoming people in the world.

The Happiness Report reveals Canada is “the fourth most accepting country for migrants.” That’s out of 117 nations for which data is available, behind only Iceland, New Zealand and, surprisingly, Rwanda. It’s basically an A+ grade for Canadians.

Despite the media frequently reporting on accusations that Canadians are inclined to be “xenophobic,” this imperfect but generally kind country has been a beacon of light, at least to a fraction of the 700 million people who say they want to permanently leave their homelands.

The annual Happiness Report, which includes a groundbreaking and largely ignored new section on migrants, shows most of the roughly 300,000 immigrants who have been arriving each year in Canada become happier than they were before leaving their country of origin.

Migrants to Canada end up with virtually the same life-satisfaction levels as native-born Canadians. That lead the UN Report to rank Canada as the overall seventh happiest nation on the planet, bested only by Finland, Norway, Denmark and other northern European countries.

The UN’s Happiness report adds more weight to previous international surveys, such as one done by Britain’s Legatum Institute, which found global respondents naming Canada the most “tolerant” nation in the world.

While most Canadians continue to recognize that acts of hatred and racism occur, including the murderous attack in early 2017 on worshippers at a Quebec City mosque, the UN report might remind Canadians that discrimination is on a continuum, and Canada is at the more positive end of it.

The UN’s remarkable figures counter claims by many activists, academics and real-estate industry lobbyists, who routinely throw out the accusation that Canadians are racists. Such critical Canadians don’t seem to recognize, for one, how bad things are elsewhere, especially in big countries. The Happiness Report found Russians are among the most antagonistic toward foreigners. Attitudes are also at rock bottom in South Korea and Pakistan, which are among the top six source countries of emigrants to Canada, and which themselves take in almost no migrants.

Canada, meanwhile, maintains its reputation as a tolerant country while being home to 8.2 million foreign-born people (7.5 million of whom are immigrants). That’s one in four of all residents. The foreign-born population of Greater Vancouver is even higher, at 45 per cent, while its 32 per cent in Calgary and 49 per cent in Greater Toronto.

In contrast, foreign-born people make up only 3.3 per cent of the residents of all countries on average, says the UN report, co-written by University of B.C. economist emeritus John Helliwell.

“Of the 12 countries with populations exceeding 100 million, only three had foreign-born population shares exceeding one per cent — Japan at 1.7 per cent, Pakistan at 1.9 per cent and the U.S. at 15 per cent.” The two most populous countries, China and India, have virtually no foreign-born.

The UN, relying on pollsters from Gallup, tallied each country’s quotient for tolerance by asking 36,000 people three questions: Whether it was a “good thing” or “bad thing” that immigrants were living in their country, were becoming their neighbours and marrying into their families.

UN chart shows the most-accepting countries for immigrants in dark green, followed by light green. The least-accepting nations are in black, followed by grey.

While Canada came out as the fourth most accepting, a bit ahead of the Netherlands, Australia and the U.S., some of the least-accepting countries for migrants were Pakistan, Greece, Egypt and Poland. (The report generally avoids using the term xenophobic.)

India and China were not as hostile as South Korea, Pakistan and Eastern Europe, but still ranked poorly. Another troubling finding was that these two major immigrant-source countries to Canada rank low for happiness, with China coming in 86th and India 133rd.

The main conclusions of the UN Happiness Report were that people who leave “unhappy” countries, where people lack trust, to go to happier countries such as Canada and Austria wind up matching the host society for happiness, with the second generation remaining at the same level as the first generation. But there are many winners and losers in the process, including among family members left behind.

And, despite Canadians’ open attitude to the foreign born, they seem to have limits. Most Canadians are not as ebullient as Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who recently raised the country’s immigration levels from 240,000, in 2014, to 340,000.

In February, Trudeau said in Mumbai, India: “Quite frankly, the most common complaint I get from Canadians, from Canadian businesses, from people in general, is that you’re not bringing in enough immigrants. And that’s a rare thing in this world.”

Trudeau was ignoring, however, polling done in late 2017 by the Angus Reid Institute, which found 57 per cent of Canadians believe the country “should accept fewer immigrants and refugees.”

And it’s even possible some surveyed Canadians were acting more positively than they actually feel. A much-cited study by Alexander Janus, of the University of California, Berkeley, found people “dramatically underestimate” their worries about immigration when directly asked by pollsters. Using a “list” technique to tease out respondents’ authentic feelings from those they believe socially desirable, Janus found roughly one third of liberal Americans, for instance, say they’re satisfied with immigration rates when they actually want them reduced.

Noting that “one of the most difficult issues in all social science” is dealing with how migration affects members of a host society, the Happiness Report cautions that certain policies are needed to ensure Canadians and others remain open. The report said leaders of immigrant-receiving countries should be aware that “moderate flows of migrants are more tolerable for the native-born than big influxes of new arrivals.”

Finally, the UN Report recognizes that, with 700 million people wanting to permanently leave their home country, it’s not possible for the few dozen countries that welcome immigrants to make them all happier by taking them in.

Therefore the Happiness report suggests the best way for rich countries to help is to find more ways to support unhappy people in their homelands.

“There are clearly limits to the annual flows which can be accommodated without damage to the social fabric that provides the very basis of a country’s attraction to immigrants,” says the Happiness report.

“One obvious solution, which has no upper limit, is to raise the happiness of people in the sending countries — perhaps by the traditional means of foreign aid and better access to rich-country markets, but more importantly by helping them to grow their own levels of trust, and institutions of the sort that make possible better lives in the happier countries.”

via Douglas Todd: Canadians are more happy than xenophobic | Vancouver Sun

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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