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Jeffrey Simpson (Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

Jeffrey Simpson

(Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)


Canada’s good name persists abroad Add to ...

Canada is reducing its foreign budget in real terms and cutting staff in embassies abroad to save money. It humiliatingly lost an election for a spot on the Security Council, a seat easily won the next time around by Australia. Canada is a slam-dunk Fossil of the Year award candidate overseas. None of its major free-trade initiatives has yet borne fruit.

A reputation earned over decades cannot apparently be easily dented, however. Almost everywhere in the world, Canada continues to enjoy an enviously positive image – at least, according to this year’s worldwide GlobeScan/PIPA poll for the British Broadcasting Corp. that tested attitudes among 26,299 people toward 16 countries.

Of the 16, Canada tied with Britain for second place with a positive rating of 55 per cent, behind only Germany at 59 per cent.

The survey asked whether the 16 countries had positive or negative influence on the world – not whether they were the most important, wealthy or powerful. The question was about influence, and in every country but Pakistan, many more people gave Canada a “positive” mark than a “negative” one.

The positives toward Canada were highest in the United States (84 per cent), France (82 per cent), (Britain 80 per cent), Australia (79 per cent) and South Korea (77 per cent).

There were some fascinating examples of discordance, however, between how other countries see Canada and how Canadians see other countries.

For example, positive views of Canada in Germany have fallen a massive 24 points since the survey a year ago, to only 51 per cent overall, whereas Canadians’ views of Germany remain very positive at 69 per cent. (Canada has been without an ambassador in Germany for about six months, an inexcusable lapse for Canada in the most important country in Europe.)

The survey offers no explanation for shifts in opinion, but it is likely the tumble in Canada’s reputation in Germany revolves around the environment. Bitumen oil has become a cause célèbre for German environmentalists. Canada’s overall dilatory record on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions gives the country a black eye in Germany.

Another gap exists between how Canadians and Americans see each other’s country. Whereas Americans display a 84-5 per cent positive/negative view of Canada’s influence, Canadians’ attitude to the United States is 45-45, down slightly from 48-42 positive in the last survey. This discrepancy in part reflects the traditional chip that Canadians have on their shoulder toward their immense neighbour.

Attitudes toward Israel reveal another difference. Israel’s image is only 2 points better than North Korea’s. The United States is the only country in the survey with a positive view of Israel (51-32), whereas Canadians display a negative attitude by more than 2 to 1 (57-25).

This negative attitude toward Israel puts Canada close to the average opinion of Israel found in this survey: 52 per cent negative and 21 per cent positive. Domestically, the results demonstrate that the Harper government’s unwavering and uncritical support for every Israeli position is out of sync with Canadians’ overall opinion.

Mind you, the survey did not test intensity of views. Pro-Israel sentiment is very deeply felt and expressed in Canada; anti-Israel opinion, generally speaking, is less intense. It’s similar to Canadian feelings about the monarchy: Pro-monarchists are intensely attached to the institution; the majority are mostly indifferent.

Canadians still retain a positive overall attitude toward the European Union (51-26), but the positives have dropped 10 points in a year, perhaps reflecting the ongoing economic crisis in the EU and ongoing disagreements over bitumen oil, seals and the inability as yet to reach a comprehensive trade agreement.

Canadians are skeptical of China, to say the least. They hold a 59-29 negative view of China’s influence, compared to a global average of 42-39 positive (itself an eight-point decline compared to a year ago). The Chinese view of Canada, by contrast, is 55-15 positive.

For some bizarre reason, Canadians see South Korea slightly negatively, at 41-38 per cent, whereas Canada is very well regarded there. South Korea has become a thoroughly admirable country that deserves to be viewed as Canadians see Japan: 61-23 per cent positive.

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