City dwellers in our four largest cities don’t always share the same opinions, survey finds. Often, differences are more regional than anything.

With Canada’s population increasingly concentrated in a small number of large metropolitan areas, the question often arises: do the values, interests and concerns of citizens in cities differ from those of their counterparts living in smaller cities or towns across the country? Is there a specific metropolitan mindset or set of experiences that distinguishes those living in these major urban centres from other Canadians?

To find answers, our  2019 Confederation of Tomorrow survey was used to compare public opinion across the country’s four largest metropolitan areas – Montreal, Toronto, Calgary-Edmonton (combined) and Vancouver – with that of people living in the rest of their respective provinces, and that of the rest of the Canadian population as a whole. Those four metropolitan areas together hold 43 percent of Canada’s total population. Calgary and Edmonton are combined to increase the survey sample, representing metropolitan Alberta. (Details of the survey and sample sizes for each city are reported at the end of this article, in chart 4.)

Government and the economy

On a variety of questions relating to the role of government and the state of the economy, there are many differences in opinion across the four major urban areas, and also many cases of similarities in views between each city and its surrounding non-metropolitan area. This highlights the continuing importance of regional differences across Canada, which overshadow differences between bigger cities and smaller towns.

In the wake of the economic downturn linked to the petroleum sector in Alberta, it’s not surprising that the mood in Calgary-Edmonton is bleak. Our survey in December 2018-January 2019 found that residents there are less likely to be satisfied with the way things are going in the country. They are also more likely to describe their household income as being “not enough”; and more concerned about job security (chart 1). (However, on the question of job security, Torontonians also express a higher than average level of concern). Those living in Calgary-Edmonton are also the least likely to say that governments have a positive impact on most people’s lives, and most likely to say that this impact is negative (chart 2). Montrealers stand out in exactly the opposite way: compared with residents of the other three city-regions, they are the most satisfied with the direction of the country, the least concerned about their incomes and job security, and the least likely to see government as having a negative impact.

While opinions in Montreal and Calgary-Edmonton are quite different from one another on these questions, they are, on the whole, not very different from residents in the rest of their respective provinces. In other words, non-metropolitan Quebecers sound more like Montrealers than like people who live in non-metropolitan areas of other provinces – and the same goes for non-metropolitan Albertans (whose opinions resemble those of residents of Calgary-Edmonton, not their non-metropolitan counterparts in other provinces).

In the first instance, this is likely because outlooks are shaped by regional economic conditions – currently, more positive in Quebec and more negative in Alberta – whose effects are felt both inside and outside of each region’s major cities. But there is evidence that provincial political cultures matter, too. For instance, Quebecers – whether in or outside of Montreal – are more likely than the national average to favour a larger government offering more services, but also more likely to favour a transfer of powers from the federal to their provincial government (chart 3). Albertans – whether in or outside of Calgary-Edmonton – are less likely than average to favour a larger government, but also (similarly to Quebecers) more likely to favour a transfer of powers from the federal to their provincial government. These differences in support for a larger or smaller role for government, and for a more centralized or decentralized federation, again are regional or provincial in nature – they appear to have little to do with whether or not one lives in one of the country’s major cities.

Diversity

While Canadians have become much more welcoming of immigrants and refugees over the past 25 years, our survey nonetheless finds that two in three (65 per cent) agree that there are too many immigrants coming into this country who are not adopting Canadian values. There is surprisingly little variation in views on this question across the country’s four major urban areas, or between these areas and the rest of the country. Agreement is only slightly lower than average in Toronto and Vancouver, and – with the exception of British Columbia – only slightly higher than average in areas of the country outside of the major urban centres. Quebecers, including Montrealers, are slightly more likely to agree that too many immigrants are not adopting Canadian values.

Canadians were also asked whether they agree that “a person who has a strong attachment to their own ethnic community is no less Canadian than anyone else,” or that “a person who has a strong attachment to their own religion is no less Canadian than anyone else.” When the responses for all big-city dwellers are compared to those of other Canadians, no significant differences are observed: about seven in 10 agree in all cases. There are no significant differences between the views of Quebecers in or outside of Montreal, Ontarians in or outside of Toronto, or British Columbians in or outside of Vancouver.

What stands out on these issues, then, is the absence of significant differences, either across the major cities, or between the major cities and smaller communities.

Policy priorities

The clearest evidence for the absence of a common big-city agenda in Canada comes from the response to the open-ended question about the most important problem facing Canadians today. The most frequently mentioned items differ significantly from city to city. And only one – the economy – appears among the top five problems mentioned in each of the four major urban areas.

  • In Vancouver, the item most frequently identified as the most important problem is affordable housing (18 per cent), followed by the economy (12 per cent), the cost of living (9 per cent), the environment (9 per cent), and poverty, homelessness and inequality (6 per cent).
  • In Calgary-Edmonton, the economy dominates the list, with 24 percent saying it is the most important problem facing Canadians today. This is followed by political representation (12 per cent), energy and pipelines (11 per cent), jobs and unemployment (8 per cent) and immigration (5 per cent).
  • In Toronto, the five most frequently mentioned problems are: the economy (12 per cent), affordable housing (9 per cent), political representation (8 per cent), jobs and unemployment (7 per cent) and the cost of living (7 per cent).
  • In Montreal, the most frequently mentioned problem is the environment (17 per cent), followed by immigration (12 per cent), political representation (9 per cent), health care (8 per cent) and the economy (7 per cent).

While the four major urban areas differ from one another in term of priorities, the question of whether each mirrors the rest of their respective provinces is harder to answer; the patterns are inconsistent. The biggest problem in the minds of Quebecers, regardless of whether they live in Montreal, is the environment. But immigration is cited as the country’s biggest problem by twice as many Montrealers as other Quebecers. Affordable housing is high on the list of problems for Torontonians, but not for other Ontarians; the case is reversed for immigration. British Columbians outside of Vancouver include political representation as well as energy and pipelines on their list of top problems, whereas Vancouverites include the cost of living and poverty, homelessness and inequality. Only in Alberta do the major urban areas and the rest of the province share an identical list of top five problems, most of which relate to the economy, energy and political representation.

Overall, then, while there are some issues that tend to be more of a concern to Canadians living in some big cities than those living outside of them, such as affordable housing or poverty, there are also many concerns that are shared, at least within the context of individual provinces. More broadly, there is greater variation in the list of concerns across provinces than there is between major urban areas and other communities within each province.

Summary

In short, the survey results show that the four major urban areas of Canada are neither consistently similar to one another, nor consistently different from the non-metropolitan areas of Canada. One reason for this is the overriding impact of regional and local economic conditions. Another factor is that there is simply more agreement across the country on some issues (such as diversity) than is often assumed. Finally, on questions of the size and role of government, provincial political cultures, such as those in Quebec and Alberta, appear to shape the views of those living both in and outside each province’s largest cities, again overriding any urban-rural differences.

Big cities share many common features and face many similar challenges as they continue to grow. But this does not mean that Canadians who live in these cities will always share the same opinions. There are many issues that unite us, and this holds true regardless of whether we live in smaller communities or larger ones. There are also issues on which we differ, but in many cases, these differences are of a more regional character than an urban-rural one.

This article is extracted from a larger report available from the Environics Institute at www.environicsinstitute.org.

The 2019 Confederation of Tomorrow survey of Canadians was conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research in partnership with the Canada West Foundation, the Mowat Centre, the Centre D’Analyse Politique – Constitution et Fédéralisme, the Institute for Research on Public Policy, and the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government at Saint Francis Xavier University. The research consisted of a national public opinion survey conducted online (in the provinces) and by telephone (in the territories) with a representative sample of 5,732 Canadians (ages 18 and over) between December 14, 2018 and January 16, 2019.

Sample sizes of Canadians who shared their views for these questions.


Source: 2019 Confederation of Tomorrow.

Photo: Petroleum plant, Montreal East. Shutterstock, by R.M. Nunes


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