This story is part of a series digging into the results of a CBC News-commissioned online opinion poll of 4,500 Canadians ahead of the October federal election.
As he stands behind the counter greeting customers in his Halifax restaurant, Muntadhr Naji insists he could not be happier. He exemplifies the Canadian dream.
Originally from Iraq, Naji came to Canada as a refugee 10 years ago. He got a job in a barber shop — and then he bought the barber shop. He’s now the owner of three businesses. He has also since sponsored his wife to come over, and they have two Canadian-born children.
“We have everything we need here,” he said. “We have electricity, it’s a safe country, the people.… That’s all opportunities, I think.”
A new poll commissioned by CBC News shows that new Canadians — those who have been in the country 10 years or less — are much more likely to be optimistic about the future than the general population.
New Canadians are also more likely to be somewhat interested in politics than other Canadians, the poll says. And they’re much more likely to say the country is on the right track, trust the government to do what’s right, and to say they don’t think corruption is a problem in Canadian politics.
What’s more, the poll says, new Canadians say they don’t have enough information about Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, they think the Green Party is “too radical for me” and they have a high regard for Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
That last point is a sentiment that rings true for the Naji family. “We love him,” Naji’s wife, Sabreen, said of Trudeau, sitting beside her husband in their Halifax apartment. “We love him. We support him.”
“He helped a lot of refugees,” Naji added.
Top issues: Finding a job and having credentials recognized
According to the poll, the top three issues new Canadians say are important to them are: finding a job; having previous credentials recognized; and the speed of immigration when it comes to processing other family members.
Easa Al Hariri, a dentist who came to Canada as a refugee from Syria in 2016, agrees with that finding wholeheartedly. But he is not quite so optimistic on all fronts.
Al Hariri and his wife have six children, including twin baby girls born in Canada. He says he has been working hard to have his dentistry credentials recognized so he can provide for his family, but the process is long.
After 3½ years in Canada, he still doesn’t have a job — a fact he’s embarrassed to admit.
“I used to be very successful in my practice as a dentist. I used to work for the Ministry of Health in Syria, help others. Now I feel like I’m in need, I am under this help,” Al Hariri said.
He’s quick to point out how grateful he is for his life in Canada, but admits he thought he would be supported more in terms of the process to become a dentist here.
“If you help these people, they will contribute to the economy, to their communities, instead of being under community services, consuming these resources,” he said of refugees.
Despite his frustration over not being able to find a job, Al Hariri also says he has a high regard for Trudeau, unable to ignore the fact the Liberal government gave his kids “a new life” and that he doesn’t worry about corruption in Canada.
“If you compare the corruption here to the Middle Eastern countries, you cannot compare that,” he said.
Attitudes differ among refugees, immigrants
Lee Cohen, a Halifax lawyer with more than 30 years of experience practicing immigration law, says the results of the CBC poll align with the conversations he’s had with his clients.
For many newcomers, Canada “is like a little form of heaven,” he says, so it makes sense that they would be more optimistic than the general population.
He notes there are differences in attitudes between refugees, many of whom come to Canada running for their lives, and immigrants, who often choose to come for reasons of employment, education and family reunification. Immigrants, he says, are more likely to be critical of the government.
And, Cohen says, Canada’s immigration population is now large enough to make a difference when it comes to voting, forcing politicians to pay them more attention.
Duty to vote
The CBC poll shows an overwhelming majority of new Canadians agree that voting is an important duty, but 36 per cent of respondents say they don’t know enough to actually cast a ballot.
As a new Canadian citizen, Naji will vote in this fall’s election for the first time. His wife is clear she intends to vote for the Liberals, but Naji says he still needs more information about the plans of the other parties.
Of the new Canadians polled, 35 per cent said they believe Trudeau should be the prime minister, compared to 19 per cent who chose Scheer. Singh and Elizabeth May trailed with 11 and nine per cent respectively.
The poll also shows that new Canadians regard Trudeau’s performance much more positively than the rest of Canada on all issues about which they were questioned — except the legalization of marijuana. Forty-nine per cent of new Canadians said he’s doing well on that front, compared to 58 per cent of the general population.
According to Cohen, immigration will form a central issue in this election campaign.
He says newcomers should be watching the same issues all Canadians are watching in this election campaign, while also paying special attention to promises and ideas related to the country’s immigration system.
“Trudeau brought some light,” he said. “The light needs to be brighter. And it’s a question mark, in my mind, who can shine that light.”
Commissioned by CBC News, the Public Square Research and Maru/Blue online survey was conducted between May 31 and June 10, 2019, interviewing 4,500 eligible voters. Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have registered to participate in the Maru Voice panel. The data have been weighted to reflect the demographic composition of Canada, according to Statistics Canada. Because the sample is based on those who initially self-selected for participation in the Maru Voice panel rather than a probability sample, no estimates of sampling error can be calculated. However, a comparable probabilistic national sample of 3,000 voters would have a margin of error of +/- 1.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, while samples of 500 voters have a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.