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Poll casts doubt on urban stereotypes

Melissa Leong
National Post
Thursday, March 09, 2006

A new study of six major Canadian cities is challenging common myths about our urban centres.

Calgarians are just as “green” as the rest of the lot.

Vancouverites drive just as much as everyone else.

And Torontonians are not as unfriendly and unsmiling as they are often made out to be.

“Our country often times is built on mythology because of stereotypes. What polls like this are able to do is pierce through that and allow you to look what people say and are actually doing,” said John Wright, senior vice-president at Ipsos Reid, which conducted the poll for the National Post and Global News.

The study, called the Pulse of Canada, looks at how Canadians in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton feel about their communities.

Mr. Wright said it reveals more commonalities between cities than differences — with a few surprises. “There’s a stereotype that exists amongst Canadians that the West Coast is very environmentally sensitive.”

“It would come to mind that [Vancouver] would undertake environmental consciousness in everything,” Mr. Wright said.

However, 47% of Vancouver respondents said they travel alone in vehicles to work or school, compared with 46% in Montreal and 42% in Toronto. “In fact, in terms of carpooling, public transit, Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto outstrip Vancouver,” he said.

Also, contrary to the stereotype of Calgarians as rednecks who don’t give a hoot about the environment, 40% of respondents in Calgary (compared with 41% in Vancouver and 43% in Toronto) say they believe that protecting “the natural environment is more important … than creating economic growth and employment.”

“Calgarians are green,” Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier said yesterday.

Calgary, he notes, has a light-rail transit system that is fuelled by wind power. And its residents, he says, are willing to address the targets of the Kyoto Protocol, though they don’t like having the federal government tell them what to do.

“Calgarians are willing to have self-compliance rather than a regulated top-down method that Ottawa is trying to push on the city.”

He was pleased to hear that Calgarians were most likely to agree with the statement: “People in this area really like to get involved in their community and help one another,” and were most likely to often say “hello” when walking past someone on the street.

He said he often says “hi” when he goes running in his neighbourhood — not like when he jogged in Toronto and people looked at him like he was “trying to ask them for money.

“It doesn’t hurt to smile and say, ‘Hello.’ “

But, according to the poll, 70% of Torontonians say people in their area do greet their fellow man (compared with 79% in Calgary, 69% in Ottawa and 59% in Montreal).

More than 81% of respondents in all six cities said people in their communities were accepting and welcoming of diverse people.

Only 9% of respondents in Edmonton and 12% in Calgary said it would bother them to have next-door neighbours who are from a different culture, compared with 23% in Montreal.

Jarrett Rudy, director of Quebec studies at McGill University in Montreal, said he was surprised by the response from his fellow citizens. He suggested that it may be because Montrealers have a “more intense understanding of cultural conflict.

“People in Montreal are still working through how they will deal with new cultures as they arrive in their city,” he said.

Forty years ago, tensions flared when the francophone community worried that immigrants were being integrated solely into anglophone society in Quebec, said Mr. Rudy, who has lived in Montreal for 12 years.

“We’re now seeing the first generations of immigrants who have been schooled in French and who have become a part of the broader culture.”

About half of respondents in all six cities said they know their neighbours well.

About 32% to 40% of respondents work primarily because they enjoy working and the challenge it brings — as opposed to working to pay for leisure activities.

So which city has the most respondents who love working? Mr. Rudy guessed Calgary, as did Mr. Wright.

According to the poll, it’s Ottawa.

“What’s the city that is made up of people who don’t want to work very much or have titles and don’t work? [That’s] a stereotype of bureaucracy, but it’s the city where everybody gets up in the morning and [enjoys] going to work,” Mr. Wright said.

said many bureaucrats head to the office happily and work long hours, fuelled by a feeling of purpose.

“People that are in the civil service, most of them are in it out of a sense of duty to the public.”

Also, the work environment in Ottawa may be more easygoing than in other cities, he suggested.

“Ottawa tends to be a little less dog-eat-dog. The competitiveness, the hectic pace that you see on Bay Street and Silicon Valley makes for a low-quality work life.”

Vancouver stood out in a few categories in the poll.

Almost three-quarters of Vancouver respondents believe housing prices are so high in their community that many people cannot afford to live there (compared with 39% to 54% of respondents in the other cities).

Vancouver respondents were also most likely to strongly agree that the gap between rich and poor in their community is growing larger (22%) and that poverty and homelessness are growing problems (47%).

“It may be a case that Vancouver has a bigger problem than others,” Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan said.

“Vancouver attracts so many people and our own success leads to more of those problems, but it just means we have to work harder to overcome them,” he said.

He also suggested that Vancouverites may have agreed with the statements because they are more aware of issues in their communities. “Vancouver has a very high degree of social awareness.”

The National Post poll drew on responses from 8,431 people surveyed over the Internet. It is considered accurate to within 1.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20