As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau mulls whether to ban Chinese telecommunications equipment giant Huawei from Canada’s next-generation 5G wireless networks on grounds of national security, a new poll shows more than half of Canadians favour barring the company.
A majority of Canadians believe the federal government should follow the lead of several of Canada’s Five Eyes intelligence allies and prohibit Huawei gear from being to used to construct new wireless networks across the country.
Mr. Trudeau must decide whether Canada will join the United States and Australia and bar domestic wireless providers from buying Huawei gear for their 5G infrastructure. New Zealand has also barred a wireless provider’s application to install Huawei 5G gear, citing “significant national security risks." Canada and Britain, which is also part of the Five Eyes, are conducting reviews of 5G technology that will determine whether to exclude Huawei equipment.
A new public-opinion poll, commissioned by The Globe and Mail and conducted between May 31 to June 4, reveals that Huawei and its Canadian advocates are offside with the views of a majority of Canadians.
“The challenge [for] Huawei corporately is that for many Canadians, they just directly connect the company back to the Chinese government," pollster Nik Nanos said. “For the [Canadian] government, there is a steep hill for them to climb to try to persuade Canadians that Huawei should be allowed to participate in the 5G telecommunications network and that is exceptionally high among men and middle-aged Canadians and also among Canadians who live in central and Western Canada.”
The Nanos Research survey poll found 53 per cent of Canadians think Ottawa should bar Huawei from providing 5G technology, while 22 per cent feel this is an overreaction and Canada should allow Huawei to sell its 5G to domestic telecoms. Another 25 per cent are unsure.
In May, the Trump administration added Huawei, which has expanded quickly to become the world’s largest telecom equipment maker, to a trade blacklist, prompting global tech giants to cut ties with the Chinese conglomerate.
The United States alleges Huawei’s equipment can be used by Beijing for spying, something the Shenzen-based company has repeatedly denied.
Huawei has been fighting back against the American campaign by hiring former senior government officials and business executives to speak on its behalf in key Western markets, including in Canada where it is mounting a major lobbying campaign to convince Ottawa to oppose a ban.
In May, The Globe reported that Huawei hired a slew of public-relations and government-relations experts, including Hill+Knowlton Strategies Canada, to help in the campaign to win over Canadians and Ottawa. Some of the people it has brought on board have worked for former Liberal or Conservative governments and also come from a wide array of businesses.
The Chinese high-tech company has been joined in this lobbying effort by two of its major Canadian customers: BCE and Telus. Rogers, the country’s second-biggest telecom, plans to use Sweden’s Ericsson equipment for 5G.
For the public-opinion poll, Nanos Research randomly surveyed 1,000 Canadians; participants were recruited by live agents by phone (both land-line and mobile) and administered a survey online. The margin of error for the random survey is 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
The Conservative Party has already come out strongly in favour of banning Huawei from 5G. The NDP has not taken a formal stand, but NDP MP Nathan Cullen says he doesn’t trust the Trudeau government to conduct an independent cybersecurity review and worries Ottawa will trade 5G participation for an improvement in its currently icy relationship with Beijing.
“I think it is important that we actually get a decent review and I’m not sure we are going to get that. This security review matters ... for another generation,” Mr. Cullen said.
The U.S. move against Huawei comes as telecom operators worldwide are gearing up for the arrival of the next generation of 5G mobile technology, which promises ultrafast mobile internet.
In the run-up to last month’s European parliament elections, Huawei placed ads across the continent urging Europeans to “vote for 5G” because the Chinese-made 5G can contribute to “European values.”