July 27, 2017 3:25 pm

6 in 10 Canadians feel Liberals ready to tackle NAFTA renegotiations: Ipsos poll

Donald Trump waves next to Justin Trudeau following a family photo at the G7 Summit expanded session in Taormina, Sicily, Italy May 27, 2017.

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Canadians are feeling pretty confident in their government’s ability to handle the renegotiation of NAFTA, a new Ipsos poll reveals, but a significant number of them still aren’t sure if rejigging the massive trade agreement is a good or a bad thing.

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The poll, conducted on behalf of Global News between July 24 and July 25, reveals that six in 10 Canadians are confident (15 per cent “very” and 47 per cent “somewhat”) that the Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will handle the upcoming negotiations in a way that will benefit Canada.

READ MORE: NAFTA renegotiation to begin Aug. 16 in Washington

Just over one in 10 respondents (13 per cent) said they had no confidence at all in the government’s bargaining skills and another 26 per cent described themselves as “not very” confident.

“I think the narrative that we’ve been seeing in the media and the chattering classes is one of impending doom,” said Sean Simpson, vice-president at Ipsos Public Affairs.

“But the poll results suggest that Canadians aren’t as pessimistic as one might have believed when it comes to the NAFTA renegotiation and its implications for Canada.”

The question then becomes, what’s fuelling the optimism? Simpson suggests it could come down to the personal relationship between Trudeau and the always-unpredictable U.S. President Donald Trump.

“It seems to be a decent working relationship, even though they may be considered to be on the opposite side of virtually every issue,” he said.

“I think that gives Canadians a certain degree of confidence that the Liberals can sit down at the table and fight for the best interests of Canada without being completely bullied by the Trump administration.”

Uncertain outcomes

In spite of healthy confidence levels as the renegotiations loom, a significant proportion (25 per cent) of Canadians still told Ipsos that they aren’t sure if the talks will ultimately produce positive or negative outcomes for Canada (in the decided camps, 37 per cent predicted outcomes will be good, 22 per cent say they’ll be bad).

Another 16 per cent said that they don’t think the renegotiation of NAFTA will make much difference at all.
In a separate question, a full 20 per cent of respondents couldn’t say whether NAFTA has benefited or hurt Canada since coming into force in 1994.

WATCH: NAFTA renegotiation could make online shopping from U.S. less costly

According to Simpson, these results may point to a lack of general knowledge about what is now a 23-year-old trade agreement linking Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

“We haven’t debated NAFTA in Canada for a long time now,” he said.

“Free trade was an election issue back in the late ’80s … and maybe for the first 10 years we were debating its merits. But the poll now shows that the majority of Canadians believe that NAFTA is a good thing (74 per cent) and is beneficial for Canada … it’s like the weather. It’s just there.”

Handling trade and Trump

When Ipsos drilled down into more specific questions centring on trade and relations with the United States, the Liberals came out ahead of the other federal parties in terms of perceived competence.

They held an 11-point lead over the Conservatives, for instance, when it came to confidence in their ability to manage international trade on a global scale. Thirty-eight per cent of respondents had confidence in the Liberals in that category, versus 27 per cent confidence for the Tories.

Canadians also seem to place more trust in Trudeau’s Liberals when it comes to handling Trump. Ipsos found that the spread between the Liberals and Conservatives on that metric was a full 16 points (36 per cent versus 20 per cent).

Simpson said it may, again, come down to a general feeling that Trudeau has managed to forge a personal relationship with Trump that won’t fall apart under pressure.

“It’s also a lack of familiarity with the leaders on the other side,” he added.

“The Conservatives have a brand new leader (Andrew Scheer) who, even though he had a prominent position in the House of Commons, he’s relatively unknown. And the NDP are going through a leadership (race) right now.”

Still, Simpson cautioned, it’s important to note that none of the federal parties managed to earn the confidence of a majority of Canadians (or even 40 per cent of us) on issues linked to the economy, jobs and dealing with our American neighbours.

“Between 19 and 28 per cent of Canadians don’t have confidence in any of the parties to manage some of those files, like international trade, dealing with Trump, et cetera,” he said.

Results may not always add up to 100 per cent due to rounding. This Ipsos poll was conducted on behalf of Global News between July 24 and July 25, 2017, using a sample of 1,000 Canadians aged 18+ from the Ipsos online panel who were interviewed online. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. In this case, the poll is accurate to within +/ – 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadian adults been polled.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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