Canadians tend to believe the U.S. over China when it comes to allegations against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, according to a new survey from Nanos Research – but there is less of a consensus on how the federal government has handled the China file.
Meng was arrested in Vancouver last December at the behest of the U.S. government, which alleges that she violated the country’s sanctions against Iran. She is currently on house arrest as extradition proceedings play out.
Two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, were arrested in China days after Meng’s arrest. Their detentions have largely been seen as retaliatory moves, as has the hurried second trial of Canadian Robert Schellenberg, which resulted in him being sentenced to death for being an accessory to drug-smuggling.
Nanos found that 44 per cent of surveyed Canadians believe the allegations the Americans have made against Meng, while 12 per cent believe China’s position that Meng has not done anything wrong nor broken any Canadian laws. Another 44 per cent say they are unsure who to believe.
Support for the U.S. position was strongest in B.C. (52 per cent) and faded as respondents moved east, bottoming out at 30 per cent in Atlantic Canada.
B.C. was also the most likely region aside from Atlantic Canada to support the Chinese position, with 13.3 per cent of respondents in that province saying so. This is because far fewer B.C. residents reported being unsure – 35 per cent, as compared to more than 50 per cent in Quebec and Atlantic Canada.
Men and older Canadians were more likely to believe the U.S. position, while women and younger adults were more likely to report not knowing who to believe.
Rating the government’s response
Despite the relative support for the U.S. position, Canadians seem to have somewhat more muted opinions on how the federal government has managed the diplomatic dispute with China.
Asked to rate the government’s performance on managing the American extradition request, 40 per cent said it had been good or very good, while 28 per cent said it had been poor or very poor. Twenty-four per cent gave the government average marks, and eight per cent said they were unsure.
The good or very good rating was above 40 per cent in every region except the Prairies, where it stood at a little less than 30 per cent. Older Canadians were more likely than younger ones to rate the government’s performance as good or very good.
The Nanos survey was conducted earlier this month, not long after John McCallum was fired as Canada’s ambassador to China made comments suggesting Canada would welcome a tit-for-tat exchange of Wanzhou for Kovrig and Spavor.
The Canadian government has maintained that Wanzhou’s arrest was necessary under the law while Kovrig and Spavor’s detentions are politically motivated. Chinese authorities have argued the opposite.
Respondents were also asked whether they felt travelling to China was more or less safe for Canadian citizens than it was five years ago, and whether Meng’s arrest and the ensuing dispute should have Canada pause its plans to pursue free trade with China.
On the travel front, 78 per cent of respondents said they considered travelling to China to be less safe than five years previously, 15 per cent said they thought it was equally safe, and fewer than one per cent said it had become more safe. Six per cent reported being unsure.
Opinion was much more split on trade talks, with 47 per cent of respondents saying Canada should delay negotiations because of the ongoing diplomatic issues, and 43 per cent saying Canada should push forward with talks because of the importance of China’s economy. Ten per cent were unsure.
The government has maintained a travel advisory urging Canadians to “exercise a high degree of caution” when travelling to China “due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws.”
The observations in this survey are based on a Nanos ROD hybrid cellphone, landline and online random survey of 1,000 Canadians, 18 years of age or older, conducted between Feb. 2 and Feb. 5 as part of an omnibus survey.
Participants were randomly recruited by telephone using live agents and administered a survey online.
The margin of error for a random survey of 1,000 Canadians is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
This study was commissioned by CTV News and the research was conducted by Nanos Research.