In the eyes of the world's emerging powers Canada is a global player with enormous economic and political influence, but among its old friends in the G8, Canada is a veritable lightweight.
As Canada welcomes the world's leading economies this week, new data suggest a strong degree of goodwill and receptiveness to Canada in the BRIC countries, which may offer Canada a chance to carve a more prominent role for itself in the changing world order.
Nearly 80 per cent of people polled in Brazil, Russia and China see Canada as a world economic power, with India not far behind, according to an Ipsos-Historica-Dominion Institute survey, done in partnership with the Munk School of Global Affairs and the Aurea Foundation.
The BRIC nations also show much higher than average support for Canada's influence in world affairs. Stalwart European allies of the old order such as France, Germany and Britain, are much less likely to see Canada as influential in world affairs, ranking near the bottom of the 24 countries polled, while the United States shows below average support on both questions.
"What you're really seeing here is how being chair of the G20 and having our Prime Minister and our foreign minister travel has made a difference," said Janice Stein, director of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. "If you look at our prominence in some of these G20 countries, which is surprising, it might well be that if we care about our reputation in the world, being an active member of the G20 does bring value to Canada."
Perceived influence, in a survey of ordinary citizens, is obviously different from actual influence in the corridors of power around the world. But it can still prove valuable.
"It's interesting that when our Prime Minister and finance minister came out strongly opposed to the bank tax, where did they look for support? They looked to India, China, Mexico, Venezuela, and the people they had the greatest difficulty persuading were the Europeans and the U.S., our traditional allies," Prof. Stein said.
Canada won a great deal of goodwill in China by reopening six regional trade offices and, despite the chilly reception Mr. Harper received on his first visit last year, the government has since strengthened Sino-Canadian ties. The same strengthening of ties is happening in India, which Mr. Harper also visited last year, and Mexico, despite the imposition of visa restrictions last year over the high number of asylum claims.
Many people in these emerging economies, despite their favourable impressions of Canada's influence, are also inclined to say Canada does whatever the United States wants in foreign affairs. India, and the Muslim countries of Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, all record the highest scores on that question.
It's our oldest friends, those who see Canada as having little influence, who say that Canada charts its own course in global affairs.
Andrew Cohen, president of the Historica-Dominion Institute, is puzzled by the skeptical view of Canada among the European powers. Their citizens are probably more likely to know about Canada than those in the other countries of the G20, he said.
"Is it because their publics are disappointed by our environmental record? It could be. Copenhagen was not a great public relations success for us," Mr. Cohen said.
If there's one truly astonishing result from this survey, it's the consistently negative view of Canada expressed by respondents in Japan and Sweden. On nearly every question, from Canada's generosity toward poor countries, to the quality of Canadian-made goods, our work ethic, level of education, coolness, sexiness and whether Canadian banks are safe, the two score Canada lowest.
Lloyd Axworthy, a former foreign minister and now president of the University of Winnipeg, said the result is hard to explain. When he was putting together the international effort to ban land mines, among other initiatives, Sweden and Japan were among the first places he looked for support.
He said the survey results suggest Canada needs a much more active public diplomacy strategy. Civil society now plays a much more prominent role in government decision making, and Canada needs to tell its story to the world, he said. Engagement with the G20 will play a big part in that, and years of investment in development in the global south, in Africa and the Americas, will provide a platform to work from.
"Looking strategically at Canada's next step, clearly the emerging countries are going to be increasingly connected and influential," Mr. Axworthy said. "Building bridges with them [will]become a really important part of our foreign policy. On the other hand I think we've got to rebuild some bridges that are in disrepair right now."