Most Canadians believe China did try to interfere in elections: poll

Click to play video: 'Calls for transparency over alleged election interference grow'
Calls for transparency over alleged election interference grow
WATCH: Calls for transparency over alleged election interference grow – Feb 28, 2023

A majority of Canadians believe China attempted to interfere in recent federal elections and want to see stronger measures to prevent foreign meddling, a new poll suggests, adding to the growing calls for Ottawa to take action.

The new poll from the Angus Reid Institute, released Wednesday, also found 53 per cent of those surveyed believe the Liberal government has not been strong enough in responding to China’s alleged interference attempts, and even more (64 per cent) want more focus on national security and defence.

“The response over the last couple of weeks from Ottawa … is not necessarily washing with Canadians, or at least with a really significant segment of them,” said Shachi Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute.

“More than half of them are saying, ‘No, this alleged interference represents a serious threat to Canadian democracy.'”

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Over the last number of weeks, Global News and The Globe and Mail have revealed detailed reports showing the scope of China’s alleged efforts to influence Canadian society, including allegations of attempts to interfere in the 2019 and 2021 elections.

On Tuesday, a report commissioned by an independent panel tasked with reviewing the 2021 federal vote concluded there was no foreign interference that “threatened Canada’s ability to have a free and fair election.” But it also warned there were attempts to interfere in the election that didn’t meet the panel’s threshold for reporting those attempts to the public.

Despite the mounting allegations, Trudeau so far has not clearly answered questions about calls for a public inquiry into the matter, despite calls from prominent officials to do so.

Click to play video: 'Canadian elections in 2019, 2021 ‘not compromised’ according to independent panel: Mendicino'
Canadian elections in 2019, 2021 ‘not compromised’ according to independent panel: Mendicino

The Angus Reid Institute poll, which was conducted in late February, did not ask Canadians about a public inquiry. But Kurl did note the data is consistent with a growing distrust among some Canadians in their democratic institutions.

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She pointed to ARI polling from last February that suggested 34 per cent of voters believed free and fair elections were getting weaker in Canada, compared with just 23 per cent who said the opposite.

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The poll released Wednesday found nearly a quarter of Canadians surveyed — including 42 per cent of Conservative voters — believe the 2021 election was “stolen” because of China’s interference, despite media reports making clear the ridings allegedly targeted by Beijing were not enough to sway the overall results. Just under half of respondents disagreed the election was stolen.

“In the absence of transparency, we run the risk of greater distrust, of conspiracies, of more disinformation and misinformation,” Kurl said.

“The last thing that this country can afford is to see a greater deterioration in trust in democracy and the tenets of democracy.”

Over half of Canadians are following developments of alleged Chinese election interference closely in the media, the poll suggests.

Alleged Chinese election interference is a serious threat to Canada’s democracy, a sentiment that 53 per cent of Canadians surveyed agreed with and that is shared by a majority or a plurality of respondents from all political parties and nearly all demographics. Only young women aged 18 to 34 were less willing to say so, with 44 per cent saying they were not sure.

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The same is true of the overall belief that China attempted to interfere in recent elections. Respondents in British Columbia and Ontario — where much of the alleged interference efforts took place — and the Conservative strongholds of Alberta and Saskatchewan were more likely to agree than those in other provinces.

While fewer Liberal voters (30 per cent) agreed the response to China’s alleged actions by the Trudeau government is not strong enough than those who said it’s about right (66 per cent), just over half agreed there’s not enough of a focus being paid on national security and defence.

Nearly half of Liberal voters (46 per cent) also said they believe Ottawa is afraid to stand up to China, compared with 62 per cent of NDP voters and 91 per cent of Conservatives.

Overall, 69 per cent of Canadians said they felt this way.

Yet 46 per cent of Canadians also said they are worried about the economic consequences of standing up to Beijing — although Kurl noted that’s down 12 points from when the same question was asked a year ago.

Click to play video: 'Discussing allegations of Chinese Interference'
Discussing allegations of Chinese Interference

Canada continues to have a lucrative trading relationship with China. Statistics Canada says last year, imports from China surpassed $100 billion for the first time to set a new record.

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Yet Canada has signalled, through its new Indo-Pacific strategy released last year, that it is willing to sacrifice growth and even lessen Chinese trade and investment in favour of other partners in the region in order to counter Beijing’s rise.

Kurl suggested the Canadian public may also be willing to make that shift in the name of security.

“Each incident, each crisis, each drama … that affects Canada-China relations further serves to chip away at people who would be inclined to say that economic primacy comes first above all others,” she said, pointing to everything from the detentions of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor to the recent flyover of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon.

Those and other issues are “leading Canadians to be increasingly in a place where they’re still saying, ‘Look, the economic relationship is important, but sovereignty, security, defence is important too,'” she added.

The Angus Reid Institute conducted an online survey from Feb. 23 to 25, 2023, among a representative randomized sample of 1,622 Canadian adults who are members of the Angus Reid Forum. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding. The survey was self-commissioned and paid for by ARI.

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