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Canadian Armed Forces members takes part in 2020's physically distanced Remembrance Day ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Nik Nanos is the chief data scientist at Nanos Research, a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, Honorary Captain (Navy), a research professor at the State University of New York in Buffalo and the official pollster for The Globe and Mail.

The iconic blue helmet of the UN peacekeeper often comes to the minds of Canadians when they are asked about our role in the world.

How does that vision align with global trade and security instability?

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A new study by Nanos for the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary and Carleton University’s Canadian Defence and Security Network sheds light on how Canadians feel about the Canadian Armed Forces and our country’s ambitions.

What emerges is a complex picture that lays out potential paths for the Forces that Canadians are ready to embrace – roles that are more than just peacekeeping.

The survey was conducted in August, while Canada was still mired in the COVID-19 pandemic, and portrays a population who believe we face international threats. Canadians are twice as likely to see a high rather than low degree of international threats – just 20 per cent believe those threats are low.

Specifically, the top international threats identified by Canadians included China (22 per cent), the United States/Trump administration (17 per cent), cyberattacks (10 per cent), terrorism (7 per cent), trade wars (7 per cent) and climate change (6 per cent).

What is the most important international threat to Canada? And the second most important?

Most important threat

Second most important threat

22%

China

12

17

The U.S./

Trump

14

10

Cyberattacks

6

7

Terrorism

6

7

Trade wars

9

6

Climate change/

the environment

5

1

Unsure

3

To what extent do you think Canada faces

international threats?

41%

To a high degree

36

Neutral

20

Not at all

3

Unsure

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: NANOS RESEARCH

What is the most important international threat to Canada? And the second most important?

Most important threat

Second most important threat

22%

China

12

17

The U.S./

Trump

14

10

Cyberattacks

6

7

Terrorism

6

7

Trade wars

9

6

Climate change/

the environment

5

1

Unsure

3

To what extent do you think Canada faces

international threats?

41%

To a high degree

36

Neutral

20

Not at all

3

Unsure

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: NANOS RESEARCH

What is the most important international threat to Canada? And the second most important?

22%

Most important threat

Second most important threat

17

14

12

10

9

7

7

6

6

6

5

3

1

China

The U.S./

Trump

Cyberattacks

Terrorism

Trade

wars

Climate change/

the environment

Unsure

To what extent do you think Canada faces international threats?

TO A HIGH DEGREE

NEUTRAL

NOT AT ALL

UNSURE

41%

36

20

3

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: NANOS RESEARCH

When asked an open-ended question about what role Canada should play in the world, the most popular responses included: peacekeeper/mediator (31 per cent), followed by a leader (13 per cent), an advocate for human rights and freedom (10 per cent), and a role model for what countries should be (10 per cent).

By a margin of more than 3 to 1, Canadians say we should be promoting our country’s values rather than its interests. Responses to a separate question about which values and interests Canadians want promoted provide a snapshot of who we are as a country today.

The top values included inclusivity (25 per cent), peace (13 per cent), human rights (13 per cent) and democracy (11 per cent). The top two unprompted interests we want advanced included trade (36 per cent) and environmental responsibility/climate change (16 per cent).

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What should Canada’s role be in the world?

31%

Peacekeepers/mediator

13

A leader/decision maker

Advocate for human rights

and freedom

10

A role model of what

countries should be

10

7

An environmental leader

7

Focus on ourselves

6

A model of democracy

What values should Canada promote?

Inclusivity,

fairness, equality

25%

13

Peace

13

Human rights

11

Democracy

Environment and

climate change

7

7

Freedom/liberty

3

Trade/commerce

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: NANOS RESEARCH

What should Canada’s role be in the world?

31%

Peacekeepers/mediator

13

A leader/decision maker

Advocate for human rights

and freedom

10

A role model of what

countries should be

10

7

An environmental leader

7

Focus on ourselves

6

A model of democracy

What values should Canada promote?

Inclusivity,

fairness, equality

25%

13

Peace

13

Human rights

11

Democracy

Environment and

climate change

7

7

Freedom/liberty

3

Trade/commerce

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: NANOS RESEARCH

What should Canada’s role be in the world?

What values should Canada promote?

Inclusivity,

fairness, equality

31%

25%

Peacekeepers/mediator

13

13

A leader/decision maker

Peace

Advocate for human rights

and freedom

10

13

Human rights

A role model of what

countries should be

10

11

Democracy

Environment and

climate change

7

7

An environmental leader

7

7

Freedom/liberty

Focus on ourselves

6

3

Trade/commerce

A model of democracy

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: NANOS RESEARCH

How well does our vision of the world and our role in it fit with how the CAF supports these ambitions?

Peacekeeping and defending Canadian territory/Canadians are the top two missions respondents saw as appropriate for the Forces (40 per cent and 35 per cent, respectively). Canadians also place a high priority on a role for the military that includes helping authorities with crises at home.

Recent events in which the Forces have been asked by governments to help respond to natural disasters and the pandemic have highlighted that domestic role during emergencies.

When it comes to international missions that Canadians support most, they included participating in natural disaster relief (77 per cent), UN peacekeeping (74 per cent), defence co-operation with allies (70 per cent) and conducting cyberoperations (65 per cent). But Canadians are much more divided when it comes to combat missions such as air strikes, or fighting on the ground or at sea.

The key takeaway is that there is significant political licence for humanitarian, peacekeeping and co-operative defence missions with allies. However, cross the line into direct combat and Canadians are more likely to have a view that “it depends.”

In essence, we are pragmatic. When Canadians see a mission aligning with our values of peace, order and good government, or our self-image of leading by example, there is a default green light to proceed. Once a potential mission veers outside that frame, our political leaders have more explaining to do.

This extends to military equipment sales. In recent years, there have been a series of controversial sales of Canadian military equipment to countries such as Saudi Arabia. Part of the public debate has included the perceived trade-offs between jobs and human rights.

When respondents were asked about a range of factors to consider when selling military equipment to foreign countries, respect for human rights by the buyer (31 per cent) and respect for international law (22 per cent) outranked Canadian jobs (11 per cent) and developing Canadian technology and innovation (13 per cent). Also of note: About 14 per cent of Canadians believe we should not export military equipment at all.

Canadian sensibilities point to the view that we cannot aspire to lead by example and advance peace on one hand, while at the same time selling military equipment to any country that may use it to undermine values we cherish.

The big financial question is: Are Canadians ready to increase defence spending to support our role in the world and security at home?

In the real world there are trade-offs. In this nationally representative study, two scenarios were introduced: raising defence spending through a tax increase, or less defence spending and a reduction in the capacity of the Armed Forces. In that context, respondents were asked if they wanted more or less defence spending.

It is quite striking that only about one in six Canadians (15 per cent) want less or much less defence spending. Four in 10 Canadians want more (10 per cent) or much more (31 per cent), while another 39 per cent want spending to stay at current levels.

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Even though Canadians are gripped with concern about their personal and economic health because of the pandemic, there is very little desire to cut defence spending. On the contrary, the appetite for more spending rather than less is stronger by a factor of more than 2 to 1.

Canadians continue to see the nation as having a role in the world leading by example. The CAF is a critical lever to advance those values of peace, humanitarian aid and working with our allies to maintain security.

There is little appetite to withdraw from the world to deal with the pandemic at home. Canadians still see the nation taking a pro-active role globally when it aligns with our interests and values.

Canadians want a mission for the CAF that is “peacekeeping plus.” The “plus” is continuing to defend our borders, keeping Canada secure and stepping up to help respond to natural disasters at home and around the world.

Even in an environment of significant fiscal pressure on governments to fight the pandemic, Canadians understand and support the need for defence spending that aligns with their values.

Note on the data

This research was commissioned by the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary and Carleton University’s Canadian Security and Defence Network. Nanos conducted a random-digit-dialling dual frame (land and cell lines) hybrid telephone and online survey of 1,504 Canadians, age 18 or older, from Aug. 21 to Aug. 31. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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More Data Dives with Nik Nanos

Canadians take a dimming view on ‘sunny ways’ and government

Canadians, Americans are more bound by fear than common values

How the pandemic has changed our views on climate change

COVID-19 triggers soul-searching among Canadians

The coronavirus’s economic gut punch has hit Canadians hard


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