07/24/2019 12:40 EDT | Updated 07/24/2019 12:56 EDT

Most Canadians Feel Bullied By China But Don’t Want War Of Words: Abacus Data Poll

Andrew Scheer has accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of not standing up for Canada amid tensions.

Adrian Wyld/CP
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listen to opening remarks at a plenary session at the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan on June 28, 2019.

Most Canadians agree their country is being bullied by China but don’t think boisterous protests in the face of that aggression will improve matters, a new poll suggests.

According to numbers from Abacus Data released Wednesday, three out of four Canadians say China is trying to bully Canada, while 25 per cent think Canada has “done things to offend China.” A clear majority of respondents across party lines feel China is to blame for tensions.

Just 18 per cent of respondents told the firm that Canada should apologize to China and “take the actions China is asking for” to resolve the situation, compared to 82 per cent who think China should back down.

Abacus Data
A graph from an Abacus Data poll released on July 24, 2019.

Canada-China relations went off the rails after the December 2018 arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of the United States, which wants her extradited on fraud charges. 

In what was widely seen as an act of retaliation, China detained two Canadians — former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor — days later. Though the men are accused of stealing state secrets, the federal government has called the detentions “arbitrary” and politically motivated.

In recent months, China has also stopped or obstructed imports of Canadian canola, beef, and pork products.

Watch: Trudeau says he raised detention of Canadians with Chinese president


With a federal election three months away, federal Conservatives have accused governing Liberals of not applying enough pressure on Canada’s second-largest trading partner.

Tory Leader Andrew Scheer, who pledged in a May foreign policy speech that he’d take a tougher line with China, has accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of doing “nothing to stand up for Canada.” In a letter released earlier this month, Scheer urged Trudeau to consider slapping tariffs on Chinese imports and to step up inspections on its products.

But the Abacus Data poll suggests a majority of Canadians prefer diplomatic efforts. More than six-in-10 respondents agree that Canada should “work diligently and behind the scenes,” rather than “loudly” protesting China’s actions.

And while Conservative voters were more likely than Liberals, New Democrats, or Greens to prefer a stronger public response, 56 per cent of Tory supporters agree that quieter diplomacy is a better path.

Abacus Data
A graph from an Abacus Data poll released on July 24, 2019.

However, a partisan split did emerge on the question of whether the Trudeau government is doing enough to stand up to China. Though 54 per cent agreed Ottawa is “probably doing what it should” to handle the situation, a majority of Conservatives — 63 per cent — feel the government isn’t doing enough.

Abacus Data
A graph from an Abacus Data poll released on July 24, 2019.

Abacus Data CEO David Coletto said in the report that it remains to be seen how the issue will impact votes this fall.

“While Canadians are split on whether the government has done enough to stand up to China or not, many Canadians understand that China is likely trying to bully Canada and loudly protesting will have little impact on the Chinese,” he wrote.

Yet in a possible sign of the political hazards around this issue, the Conservative Party recently landed in some hot water over a fundraising video that invoked the detentions as part of a broader criticism of Trudeau’s foreign policy record.

Last week, CBC News reported the party pulled a clip that used images of Kovrig and Spavor and charged that Trudeau “failed to negotiate” their release. According to the CBC report, one of the families of the detained men complained about the video.

The Abacus poll was conducted online among 1,500 adult Canadians between July 12 to 17. A similar survey would have a margin of error of 2.6 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

With a file from The Canadian Press