While 82 per cent of respondents said Canada should reduce its trade reliance with Beijing, 38 per cent believed Ottawa should completely sever economic ties with China.
Overall, a majority of respondents believed Canada is making the best out of a complex and politically charged situation. Six in 10 respondents said Canada is striking the right balance between co-operating with China and defending Ottawa’s interests.
“(Canadians) understand that this isn’t a situation that comes cost-free, that if something happens with our relationship with China, there are economic consequences for Canada,” Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs, said.
“The idea of completely separating from China probably strikes Canada as something difficult to do. It is really interesting to see how sophisticated Canadians are about their views on China. They realize maybe we are too dependent but also realize it’s pretty difficult to separate ourselves completely,” he added.
Tensions between Canada and China have been rising since December 2018, when Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, at the request of the United States. Days after Meng’s arrest, China detained two Canadians, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the arrests of Kovrig and Spavor are an “obvious” attempt by China to put “political pressure” on Canada for the arrest of Meng.
The matter has strained relations between Beijing — which has claimed Meng’s arrest was political — and the Canadian government, which amid all this has been conducting a national security review of Huawei.
The review is expected to determine whether the tech company should be permitted to be involved in the development of Canada’s 5G network. The United Kingdom, Australia and the U.S. have put steps in place to ban Huawei from their 5G telecom networks.
Observers have since pointed out that Canada is the last member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance — which also includes New Zealand — to not restrict or ban the use of Huawei equipment in some form or another.
A majority of Canadians (58 per cent) believe Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is doing a good job of managing relations with China, according to the poll.
Trudeau’s approach to China is seen most favourably in Atlantic Canada (68 per cent), Quebec (61 per cent), Ontario (60 per cent) and British Columbia (59 per cent), and least so in Saskatchewan and Manitoba (50 per cent) and Alberta (41 per cent).
“In the province of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, they tend to be more conservative in terms of their voting. So anything relative to the Trudeau government, they tend to be a bit more negative,” Bricker explained.
“But they are also the places where the biggest impact on having a difficult trading relationship with China happens. And that’s because they are especially focused on agriculture. And if there’s been a place where China has been trying to assert its political will through trade, it has been on agriculture.”
In March 2019, China blocked Canadian canola seed imports, stating some shipments were contaminated with pests. The country ended a roughly four-month suspension of its imports of Canadian pork and beef in November 2019.
The poll comes as global trade experts raise concerns about growing protectionism in many countries, including China. The World Trade Organization said in June that global trade in goods was set for a record fall this year and that wider restrictions could see a 2021 rebound falling short.
Hong Kong tensions
Canadians were also asked about Canada’s approach to China after the Hong Kong security law was implemented in June.
Seventy-five per cent of respondents said Canada should do more to stand up to the Chinese government and defend the residents of Hong Kong. Support for this stance rose to 81 per cent among Canadians aged 35 to 54.
But taking a firm stance against China and Hong Kong isn’t seen as without political risk.
According to the poll, Canadians are split right down the middle on how to best approach bilateral relations, given the potential repercussions. Half (49 per cent) said Canada should be careful not to offend the Chinese government and risk further economic sanctions or other political reactions, while the other half (51 per cent) disagreed.
Methodology: This Ipsos poll was conducted between July 8 and July 10, 2020.
For this survey, a sample of 1,000 Canadians from the Ipsos I-Say panel was interviewed. Quotas and weighting were employed to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the Canadian population according to census information. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within ± 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what the results would be had all Canadian adults been polled. The credibility interval will be wider among subsets of the population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.
— With files from Global News’ Beatrice Britneff