Three-in-five Canadians want less trade with China, but concerned about economic costs

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Seven-in-ten Canadians believe there’s nothing Canada can do to change China’s behaviour

As the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing intensifies the international spotlight on China, new data from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute finds many worrying about the economic costs of standing up to the world’s second largest economy.

Canada will not be sending delegates to the Winter Olympics in February, the first time since 1980 that the country has undertaken a diplomatic boycott. While half of Canadians supported the move in November, three-in-five (58%) worry such diplomatic actions will come with negative consequences to Canada’s economy.

There are signs that the diplomatic boycott may be the beginning of a new era in the Sino-Canadian relationship as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau brings in deputy minister of National Defence Jody Thomas as his new national security adviser. Thomas, the former commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard, has been described as “hawkish” on China.

As of 2020, China represented over $100 billion worth of trade into and out of Canada. Even so, a majority of Canadians prefer their country would deal with China less. Three-in-five (61%) say they want Canada to trade less with China, while one-quarter (24%) say the country is as good a trade partner as any.

Of Canadians who want their country to deal with China less, three-in-ten (28%) believe it’s possible to do so without negatively affecting Canada’s economy at all. A further three-in-five (60%) believe Canada could reduce its reliance on China for trade with a minor economic impact.

Still, many wonder if diplomatic actions taken by Canada would make any difference at all. Seven-in-ten (73%) believe it’s unrealistic that anything Canada does will change China’s behaviour.

Past Conservative voters are the most likely believe Canada is powerless to affect China (79%) while past Liberal (25%) and NDP voters (24%) are the most likely to disagree.

More Key Findings:

  • Those in Quebec are the most likely (30%) to call China as good a trade partner as any other country. Meanwhile, British Columbians are the most likely (68%) to prefer Canada trade with China less.
  • A majority (54%) of those who say we should prioritize human rights when dealing with China worry over the costs to Canada’s economy if Canada were to get in China’s way.
  • Conservative voters are the most likely of any party’s supporters to say Canada should prioritize trade over human rights in its dealings with China (28%), but also the most likely to wish Canada would trade with China less (69%).
  • One-in-five (21%) of those who worry of the economic consequences of standing up to China say it’s impossible to cut trade ties with the country without a significant cost to Canada’s economy.