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Public Support for National Interests and Distinctive National Values
in Canadian Foreign Policy

John Kirton
Director, G7 Research Group
April 16, 2018


The most recent comprehensive survey of Canadians' views on world affairs, Canada's 2018 World Survey Report, strongly shows that they support Canada's national interests and distinctive national values — in ways that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should follow when he hosts the G7 Summit in Charlevoix, Quebec in June.

National Interests

On the ultimate national interest of survival, which arises as national unity in the Canadian case, respondents from the traditional core of largely Anglophone Ontario and largely Francophone Quebec speak with a single voice. An identical, strong majority of 59% in both Ontario and Quebec chose the same issue — global warming and environmental problems — as the global issue they are most concerned about.

On the country with a positive influence in the world they both pick Canada first. Indeed, according to the report "Quebecers are now more likely than in 2008 to put Canada on this list (up 11 points), closing the gap with other Canadians." Very few seem to want to separate from Canada anymore.

Viewing the United States as a negative force are an identical 60% of Canadians with English and with French as their mother tongue.

As the country or region of greatest interest, Europe and Scandinavia come first, for both Anglophones and Francophones and Canadians as a whole. These regions beat the second placed United States, where far fewer citizens speak French.

Residents of Quebec and Ontario also have the greatest personal interest in living abroad. Canada's national unity is an outward looking one.

Canada has at least some influence in the world, say 70% of all Canadians and 66% of Quebecers too.

To be sure, there are a few small gaps.

On the direction the world is heading over the next decade, 48% of all Canadians are basically pessimistic, while 54% of Francophones are.

Favourable views of the U.S. are held by only 47% of Canadians as a whole, including 41% of Quebecers and 40% of Francophones.

But in all, national unity is very strong when Canadians think about the world.

Distinctive National Values

Canadians also share to a high degree the same cluster of distinctive national values of environmentalism, multiculturalism, openness, antimilitarism international institutionalism and globalism.

Environmentalism still comes first, as it almost always has for several decades. It comes first as the most important global issue and the one Canadians are most personally concerned about.

Multiculturalism has moved up into the top ranks.

Openness endures, and expands, as its demographic dimensions strengthen to join the economic ones of old.

Antimilitarism lives on, thanks to a nostalgic love of peacekeeping, even though it is an overseas use of its military in which Canada has not seriously engaged for decades. But its mythological value endures. Today, far more of Canada's armed forces are deployed in combat mode on Russia's border, or in Syria and Ukraine, than will ever fly helicopters in Mali.

International institutionalism is strong and broad. A striking 88% of Canadians say it is critically important, or important, for Canada to be actively supportive of and involved with the United Nations. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) attracts 85%. The informal, global, summit-centred G7 gets an almost equal 85%. Even the more linguistically inclusive British Commonwealth has 75%. Only 9% of Canadians say the G7 and NATO are not very important.

Globalism is reflected in the responses to the UN, G7 and Commonwealth, in their extensive travel abroad, donations to addressing global issues, attention to world affairs, support for international trade and their view that the estimated three million Canadians living abroad are a benefit. But the countries they view most positively are heavily European ones.

Canada's G7 Charlevoix Summit Priorities

How well do Canadians' convictions about the world match the priorities their prime minister has chosen for the high profile G7 summit he will host in Charlevoix, Quebec, on June 8-9? This will be his first chance to welcome President Trump to Canada, to showcase Canada's values and leadership in the world, and to show his voters what his foreign policy is before they go to the polls in the general election in 2019.

The match between Canadians' views and Trudeau's G7 priorities could be improved.

For his Charlevoix Summit, Trudeau chose five priorities: inclusive economic growth; jobs of the future; gender equality; climate change, oceans and clean energy; and peace and security.

If Trudeau wants to connect with his fellow Canadians, he should rearrange the priorities he has chosen.

He should switch climate change and economic growth in the hierarchy. Climate change should be elevated from fourth place to first, as Canadians give it the gold medal as the issue they care most about. Conversely, inclusive economic growth can move to fourth. Canadians put in only fifth place the "growing gap between rich and poor," at a time when their economy and social safety net are doing very well.

He should drop "jobs of the future" to fifth. Canadians put the "disappearance of jobs to automation" in ninth spot as a concern.

Peace and security should move up to second. Canadians rank terrorism third, and the spread of nuclear weapons sixth as their key global concerns.

Gender could stay in third and continue to be mainstreamed throughout the other four. The poll shows a gender gap, including where 59% of Canadian women pick global warming as their first concern.

Finally, development could be added. Canadians, in the spirit of sustainable development and the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, put hunger and famine in the developing world in a close second, next to climate change, as the global issue they care most about.

Trudeau could be successful here as past summits show. Indeed, it was on development — the Muskoka Initiative on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health — that Prime Minister Stephen Harper scored a hat trick when he hosted Canada's last G7 summit in 2010. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien did so too when he hosted the one before, in Kananaskis, Alberta, in 2002.

If it worked in Ontario and Alberta then it will work in Quebec today.

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