Report says imported Asian labour issue divides Canadians


While most Canadians believe the country’s lack of high-skilled labour is hurting its global competitiveness, support for whether immigration from Asia can ease the problem appears to depend heavily on a person’s political leanings.

That is among the key findings of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada’s 2019 national opinion poll on “Canadian views on human capital from Asia.”

The survey of 1,524 Canadians was conducted by EKOS Research Associates between July 29 and August 6. It found that among respondents who self-identify as most closely aligned with the Liberal Party of Canada, 65% said Canada’s lack of skilled labour hurts the country’s global competitiveness. Fifty-three per cent of Conservative Party of Canada supporters expressed the same belief.

However, the report also found that “44% more Liberals than Conservatives are likely to look towards Asia” for foreign talent in the next 10 years. Support for Asian immigration – specifically for attracting talent – was lower among Conservatives: 48% support potential measures such as enhanced visas and talent mobility agreements, compared with 73% of Liberals, 68% of NDP supporters and 63% of those who align with the Green Party of Canada.

Among the findings: Conservatives (44%) are more likely to be concerned about Asian influences on Canadian culture versus Liberal supporters (22%), Greens (17%) or NDP backers (15%). Support for immigration policies is especially far apart on topics like encouraging family reunification for immigrant talent from Asia; such a policy received 77% support from self-identified Liberals while garnering only 33% support from Conservatives.

But officials from the foundation declined to link the survey’s findings to geographical distribution of Conservative supporters in the last election. They noted that the report did not survey whether immigrant-labour policies would receive less support in places like B.C., where the Tories had more votes.

Asia Pacific Foundation research manager Charles Labrecque said recent surveys show stronger skepticism toward Asia – especially China – in places like British Columbia compared with Eastern Canada.

The negative feelings in B.C. have often been attributed to high real estate costs in the province, which are seen by a number of analysts as driven by foreign investment.

The most recent surveys on Canadians’ attitudes toward Asia have often focused on China, simultaneously Canada’s second-largest trading partner and the source of one of Ottawa’s biggest foreign-affairs trouble spots in the past year. Since the arrest of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver last December, Beijing has arrested two Canadian citizens on espionage charges and effectively banned imports of Canada’s canola seeds and red meats. With other developments like the continuing unrest in Hong Kong further affecting Canadians’ view of China, the foundation’s poll found that when it comes to views about potential foreign skilled workers, Canadians consistently rank Chinese candidates lower than those from other countries. For example, support for accepting more Chinese science, technology, engineering and mathematics talent is at 65% in the survey, compared with 69% for Filipino candidates, 73% for those from India, 76% for South Koreans, 79% for American citizens and 82% for Europeans.

But Asia Pacific Foundation officials noted that, given the deep-freeze in Canada-China relations, the numbers were not as stark as some expected. The poll showed that about 60% of respondents believe receptiveness to Chinese talent has decreased, but it is unclear whether that sentiment translates directly to what’s happening on the ground.