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Canada's Brand Remains Strong Despite Reduced Outreach

12/12/2016 03:43 EST | Updated 12/12/2016 03:44 EST
Kutay Tanir via Getty Images
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In 2016, an index that ranked the world's best countries placed Canada in second behind Germany. Published by U.S. News and World Report, this index saw Canada take the top spot amongst among the nearly 6000 millennials that it surveyed (18-35 years old). Apparently, they gave Canada particularly high marks when it came to its perceived level of civic and democratic engagement and its openness to business.

Other assessments of Canada's international image have yielded similar results. In a 2016 survey that examined some 55 countries aimed at determining which had the best reputation, Canada finished second in a virtual tie with Sweden, the survey's first place finisher. There is yet more good news about our image from the world's most popular branding index (the Gfk nation brand). It puts Canada in fifth place behind the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and France in possessing the best brand. Overall, therefore the perception in the world that is held about Canada is not too shabby.

There was much criticism of the Harper government's foreign policy. In fall 2010, Canada lost its seat on the much coveted United Nations Security Council. That was seen as a severe rebuke of the country and some attributed it to declining trust of the country. That's said, many of Canada's principal detractors abroad were led by politicians whose countries were not a particularly shining example of democracy.

Whatever one's assessment of the damage the Harper government did to our reputation abroad, our positive image has remained fairly intact. A survey of 24 countries done by the firm Globescan for the BBC revealed that views of Canada were very favourable. Some 57 per cent of respondents held positive views of Canada's influence in the world and thereby they ranked in second place out of all countries behind Germany.

The sentiment towards Canada is positive in different countries on different continents, but the most favourable views found among traditional allies. France was the best advocate of Canada in 2014, with 87 per cent of French giving positive ratings of Canada's influence in the world. The next countries that held us in the most positive light included our American neighbors, the United Kingdom and Australia.

Critics of Canada's foreign policy have contended that the previous government's obsession with domestic affairs resulted in some erosion of its traditional role as a peacekeeper and champion of human rights on the international stage. The Harper government did indeed axe funding to a number of organizations, some of which provided assistance to vulnerable populations overseas, others documenting human rights abuses around the world and yet another that supported the promotion of knowledge about Canada in universities abroad.

The North-South Institute, the Pearson Peace Keeping Centre, Rights and Democracy and the International Council for Canadian Studies were amongst a few of the higher profile bodies that saw their government funding done away with. No doubt that some of the cuts were justified by the need to reduce expenditures and the challenge of demonstrating results. Surely, however these were not the only reasons with ideology playing a role in some of the decisions.

The defunded organizations countered that the cuts would result in a severe blow to Canada's image abroad. Sure some the many recipients of the funds were displeased with the government. But the threat of some Canada's brand and reputation being undone has simply failed to materialize. By consequence the warning has not served these organizations particularly well. If this did not occur, it is because the perception of Canada abroad does not depend on these organizations and their activities as important as they may be .

Often, the assessment of Canada abroad is not based on actual knowledge about the country. Rather, as evidenced in these branding studies, it is based amongst other things on the country's perceived employment prospects, whether its streets are believed to be safe, whether the people are regarded as friendly and welcoming, whether education is inexpensive, whether it is a good place to raise a family and how well it manages diversity. In those areas, it will take a lot more than cuts to some of the programs mentioned to significantly modify an image that has taken a long time to construct.

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