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Yazan Jabr was totally lost on his very first day in St. John's, N.L., when he randomly asked a man for directions to get downtown, a 20 minute walk away.

"It was very cold," Jabr, 22, recalled of that chance encounter two years ago in the middle of winter. The man, who Jabr figures was in his 50s, walked him the whole way to his destination, pointing out places of interest as they went.

"I told him it was my first day in the city and he was just super friendly. I think it's one of those things I'll never forget."

At a time in world history marked by a global trend towards slamming doors on immigration in the face of mounting economic insecurity, new polling by The Canadian Press/Ekos Politics suggests St. John's is Canada's most "open" city, where populist politics — including support for restrictions on newcomers and resistance to free trade and globalization — are least likely to thrive.

Populism is the term often used to describe the bursts of anti-elite support that catapulted outsider Donald Trump into the White House and fuelled Britain's stunning referendum results to leave the European Union.

Random landline and cell phone surveys last spring and fall of some 12,604 Canadian adults aged 18 and over asked various questions to assess populist sentiment. Respondents were asked about their financial outlook, views on visible minorities, free trade, taxation and if they approved or disapproved of how U.S. President Donald Trump is doing his job.

Data were weighted by age, gender and region. Results were considered accurate to within plus or minus 0.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

"It is a pretty friendly place," Ekos President Frank Graves said of St. John's. "It may be the case that if you live in an ethnically homogenous, smaller city you tend to be less open but obviously that's not always the case."

The city of about 109,000 people, its famous colourful clapboard buildings nestled around a busy harbour, is increasingly diverse but still overwhelmingly white. And its economic engine has sputtered since the offshore oil bonanza that built luxury homes and opened swank restaurants ended when prices crashed three years ago.

That, according to conventional wisdom, is supposed to make it fertile ground for the sort of attitudes believed to underpin the 21st-century populist forces that are in play around the world.

And yet St. John's — along with Victoria, B.C., another fairly white seaside destination — tops the ranks of Canada's most open cities, Graves said. At the other end of the spectrum, the surveys suggest, are Oshawa, Ont., and Calgary, where "closed" attitudes and tepid support for immigration are spurred by a persistent and deepening fear of a worsening economy.

"Maybe it's the ocean having kind of a more cosmopolitan influence on the outlook of people," Graves said. "A lot of people come through. It's a big port.

"We see both people in British Columbia and the Atlantic tend to be more open. It's peculiar."

James Baker grew up in Carbonear, about an hour northwest of St. John's, and now helps immigrants adjust in the capital city as part of his job with the Association for New Canadians.

Those stories about big-hearted Newfoundlanders now immortalized in the hit Broadway play "Come From Away" aren't just oversweetened stereotypes, Baker said.

"Even in hard times, they recognize the challenges and wants of others and want to make sure they don't go without. They put others before themselves."



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