Skip to main content

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen tour the China-Canada Green Design Centre with Leonard Mao, marketing director for Canada Wood, in Langfang, Chinam, on Feb. 9, 2012.

A new poll suggests Canadians want China's help driving the economy, but don't want them in the driver's seat.

In the Canadian Press-Harris Decima survey, 51 per cent of Canadians polled welcomed Chinese investment when it helps fuel business that otherwise wouldn't get off the ground.

But the poll suggests Canadians are less enthused about the Chinese having a controlling stake in Canadian-owned or operated companies.

"The data shows that the historic thinking of foreign ownership being either desirable or undesirable is no longer valid," said Doug Anderson, senior vice-president of Harris-Decima.

"Opinion has evolved and Canadians now judge different types of foreign investment very differently."

Forty-nine per cent of those polled feel Chinese companies taking over an existing foreign-owned company operating in Canada is bad or very bad, while 71 per cent felt Chinese companies taking a majority controlling interest in an existing Canadian-owned operation is a bad thing.

Direct investment in Canada by China now stands at $14.1-billion a year, with the lion's share in the natural resources industries.

Since 2005, Chinese companies have been slowly buying pieces of Canada's oil and gas companies and projects.

Last month, PetroChina became the first Chinese company to have full ownership of an oilsands project, when it bought Athabasca Oil Sands Corp.'s remaining stake in the MacKay River project, one of the newest of northern Alberta's oil sands developments.

The survey of just over 1,000 people was carried out between Feb. 2 and 5 and has a margin of error of 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

The poll results were released as Prime Minister Stephen Harper tours China to promote Sino-Canadian relations.

In Beijing, Mr. Harper and Chinese leaders said the state of the relationship is improving.

Mr. Harper pointed to Canada's receipt of Approved Destination Status in 2009 and this week's conclusion of negotiations on an investment protection deal as prove that things are moving ahead.

"Our government is please with the progress achieved," Mr. Harper told reporters at the close of his first day in Beijing on Wednesday.

"We look forward to continuing to strengthen our strategic partnership with China while of course also maintaining a frank an respectful dialogue on the issues of human rights and the rule of law."

The poll suggests Canadians feel the Canada-China relationship has stayed the same under Mr. Harper, though among those who do feel relations have changed, the tendency is to feel they have changed for the better.

The overwhelming majority of Canadians – almost nine of out 10 surveyed – say the Canada-China relationship is important.

Mr. Harper was set to continue moving forward with relationship-building on Thursday, holding two bilateral meetings with Chinese leaders, including President Hu Jintao.

He spent the early part of the day touring the China-Canada Green Building Design Centre, which is the product of intensive lobbying on the part of Canada's lumber industry to encourage wood-frame construction in China.

Leonard Mao, the marketing director for Canada Wood, took Mr. Harper and his wife Laureen on a tour of a wood-framed building resembling a Whistler, B.C. ski chalet, which is used to train Chinese workers.

He noted that many Chinese "can't stand wood," but have also begun to desire building second homes and lumber makes an ideal material.

Canadian wood exports to China grew to $835-million in 2010, up 119 per cent from 2009.

During the first 11 months of 2011, wood products were Canada's third largest export to China.

Afterwards, the Harpers travelled into the centre of Beijing for lunch with Canada's newly-minted goodwill ambassador to China, Mark Rowswell, who is well-known in China as an entertainer by the name "Da Shan".