Immigration emerges as potential wedge issue

A recent opinion poll indicated four in ten Canadians would be more likely to vote for a party that advocates for reduced immigration. Photo credit: Toronto Metropolitan University


Immigration is not often a winning topic for politicians, especially if you’re a right-leaning leader. Just ask Stephen Harper how his response to immigration went in 2015, or even how well Maxime Bernier’s proposed cuts went over during the 2019 campaign

Given the recent polls, the Conservatives have a healthy lead compared to Justin Trudeau’s government. This might be part of the reason senior Liberal officials are trying to land blows on issues that the Tories typically handle poorly. 

Earlier this month, Katie Telford, the Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister, shared a news article claiming that there are no pro-choice MPs in the Conservative Caucus. To no surprise, Tories were quick to respond and point out the error. Even Twitter fact-checked the tweet. 

Nonetheless, it is clear that the Liberals are worried about their re-election chances and are pulling out their greatest hits to attack the Conservatives as regressive, intolerant, and unfit to lead Canada. 

Liberals’ lines of attack on key social issues have worked well before and struck at the Tories’ Achilles Heel. Look at how Andrew Scheer fumbled the ball in 2019 on his personal stance around abortion. Even Erin O’Toole was no match for the red team as he shot himself in the foot over gun control in the last election. 

Liberals know how to divide Canadians and Conservatives. But one of their preferred weapons of choice, that of immigration policy, might now be as dull as their government is old. 

Abacus Data asked Canadians about their thoughts on Canada’s goal of welcoming 500,000 new immigrants each year, following increased media attention on Canada’s immigration policy. One in four Canadians indicated that they would be less inclined to support a political party that pledges to cut immigration. On the other side of the coin, four in ten Canadians would be more likely to vote for a party that advocates for reduced immigration. This indicates a potential political opportunity for parties willing to address these concerns head-on.

From this survey, it appears that Canadians have reversed their thinking on immigration. In theory, it could emerge as a winning issue for politicians who can effectively balance public sentiment with broader considerations. 

Notably, 66 per cent of Canadians believe that a leader proposing immigration cuts is responsive to the strain on public services. Moreover, 62 per cent perceive such a leader as attuned to the feelings of Canadians regarding immigration, while 60 per cent believe they are striving to enhance housing affordability. Though it is worth noting that 47 per cent of respondents view this approach as short-sighted.

It is clear that Canadians’ perspective on immigration has changed and immigration could very well be an emerging issue for the next election, whenever that might be. Given that immigration touches on a number of key issues Canadians are currently facing – housing, cost of living, and healthcare – this could be the perfect wedge issue for Conservatives. 

It tees up the narrative that the Liberals’ progressive and aggressive approach to a number of issues is no longer working and it is time for some restraint on all fronts.

Though, as any good golfer knows, just because a shot is teed-up well, doesn’t mean it will land on the fairway. If the Conservatives choose to beat the drum of immigration, they’re going to have to thread the needle carefully or they might hit this shot out of bounds.

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