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Canadians are divided on whether taxpayers' money should be used to bail out auto makers in Canada should U.S. President Donald Trump act on threats to impose tariffs on foreign vehicle imports, a new poll says.

About half of those surveyed told a Nanos Research poll for The Globe and Mail that they would support, or somewhat support, government financial aid for auto companies in the event of protectionist U.S. tariffs. Seventeen per cent said they would support it and 34 per cent said they would somewhat support it.

Forty-two per cent didn’t like the idea. Twenty-one per cent said they would oppose it and another 21 per cent said they would somewhat oppose it. Six per cent of respondents were unsure. (Numbers do not add up to 100 due to rounding.)

By comparison, this same poll shows Canadians are more supportive of government aid already announced to help steel and aluminum producers in Canada cope with protectionist tariffs imposed by the Trump administration at the beginning of June.

Seven in 10 Canadians told Nanos Research that they support or somewhat support government assistance offered to steel and aluminum makers. Late last month, Ottawa announced it would provide up to $2-billion in financial aid to companies affected by recent U.S. tariffs on their exports. Quebec has also offered aid to smaller steel and aluminum firms.

Thirty-nine per cent said they support aid for the steel and aluminum firms, while 31 per cent said they somewhat support it. Eleven per cent said they oppose this help and 13 per cent somewhat oppose it. Six per cent were unsure.

Nanos Research pollster Nik Nanos said he thinks the significant difference in popular support for helping auto companies compared with steel and aluminum producers can be explained by two factors.

Open this photo in gallery:

Pollster Nik Nanos.

One, Canadians think of auto makers as foreign because of these firms’s U.S., Japanese or European parent companies, he said. “For many Canadians, auto producers are not Canadian.”

(Many significant steel producers and aluminum producers in Canada are foreign-owned as well.)

Second, another contributor to reluctance to help auto companies is recent history, Mr. Nanos said. In 2009, two big auto firms were the beneficiary of a major public bailout in Canada. During the past major recession, the federal and Ontario governments contributed $13.7-billion to help keep Chrysler Group LLC and General Motors Co. afloat. Not all of this money was recouped.

“I think helping the steel and aluminum sector is something new and is not regarded as a regular occurrence,” Mr. Nanos said. “Helping the automobile companies is something Canadians have seen in the past.”

In mid-June, Mr. Trump, while heading to Singapore after the Group of Seven summit in Quebec, warned that he might impose 25-per-cent tariffs on Canadian cars. He was responding to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s assertion that Canada would not be “pushed around” on NAFTA renegotiations

The TD Bank later estimated that Mr. Trump’s vehicle threat − accompanied by an expected levy of at least 10 per cent on auto parts from Canada − would cost this country as much as 160,000 jobs, especially if the Canadian government took retaliatory action.

The Nanos poll also found significant support for the Prime Minister’s handling of trade conflicts and NAFTA renegotiations with Mr. Trump. At the G7 summit in June, Mr. Trudeau said: “Canadians are polite, we’re reasonable, but we also will not be pushed around.”

Three in four Canadians told the Nanos poll they felt Mr. Trudeau’s statement was a good or somewhat good idea. Fifty-three per cent described it as a good idea and 23 per cent called it a somewhat good idea. Thirteen per cent called it a bad idea and nine per cent described it as somewhat bad idea. Three per cent were unsure.

More than 7 in 10 Canadians approve or somewhat approve of Mr. Trudeau’s conduct on Canada-U.S. trade files. Thirty-nine per cent said they approve of it and 32 per cent said they somewhat approve while 17 per cent said they disapprove and 9 per cent somewhat disapprove. Four per cent were unsure.

Mr. Nanos said most Canadians don’t blame Mr. Trudeau for the state of trade relations with the Trump administration. “People know Canada’s currently strained relations with the United States is not something unique to Canada. Everyone is having that problem, from Europe to Asia. [People feel] he’s probably doing as best as can be expected in the current environment.”

The Nanos survey of 1,000 adult Canadians was conducted June 26 to 28 by telephone and online.

The margin of error for a random survey of 1,000 people is 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The survey was commissioned by The Globe and CTV News.

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