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A BBC poll released Thursday shows Canada's reputation in the world has worsened in the eyes of most countries surveyed, most notably in China. ((GlobeScan))

Canada's image in the world has deteriorated sharply in the past year, an international poll suggests.

Positive views of Canada fell most steeply in the United States, Britain and China, according to the BBC World Service survey of 20,176 people in 20 countries who were asked if Canada had a mainly positive or negative influence in the world.

It is the first time Canada's popularity among its major trading partners has declined since polling firm GlobeScan began tracking international sentiment in 2005, and the deterioration could hurt Canadian business interests, said GlobeScan chairman Doug Miller.

"If the conditions persist, it can start to set in more cognitively and become an anchor that weighs down [Canada's] reputation," said Miller. "What countries have found is that it's extremely hard work to regain trust."

Environmental policies blamed

Miller blames negative media coverage of Canada's environmental policies for at least part of the drop.

For Bob Johnson, a senior adviser at the Canadian International Conference, a non-partisan research council established to strengthen Canada's foreign policy, that's "all there is to it."

"I think all it means is that the one thing people have noticed about Canada more recently is our failure to move aggressively on climate change," Johnson told CBC News.

Canada's role in Afghanistan is seen favourably by other nations, he said, as is its quick response in the aftermath of Haiti's Jan. 12 earthquake.

If Canada wants to improve its influence abroad, Johnson said, it will have to "show a real willingness to move ahead on a variety of actions [relating to climate change] without dithering and waiting for the U.S."

Drop in China, rise in Germany

Canada's positive ratings dropped most markedly in China, where 54 per cent of respondents said Canada's influence in the world was "mainly positive," a 21 per cent drop from a similar poll a year earlier. The proportion of Americans holding favourable views of Canada dropped to 67 per cent from 82 per cent, while in Britain it fell to 62 per cent from 74 per cent.

Even Canadians see their influence in the world more negatively than they did in the 2009 poll: just 75 per cent called the country's influence positive, compared with 86 per cent in 2009.

In Indonesia, Russia, Ghana and Germany, however, perceptions of Canadian influence improved. The improvement was most marked in Germany, where 73 per cent of respondents said Canada has a positive influence, an increase of nine percentage points from a year earlier.

France's good opinion of Canada was unchanged at 79 per cent, making it now among the highest.

Games factor

Despite the general decline, Canada remains one of the most positively viewed countries in the world.

The BBC measured the influence of 15 countries, but released only the results relating to Canada, ahead of the opening of the Winter Olympics. Results for other countries will be made public in April.

"With the Vancouver Winter Olympics about to begin, followed in June by the G8/G20 summit in Canada, it will be interesting to see how Canada's reputation will end the year," Miller said.

He added that even if the Games go off without a hitch, there's no guarantee the country's reputation will improve.

The 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, despite being "seen as a stellar success did not have a positive impact on views of China" because of other issues like media restrictions and China's treatment of Tibet, Miller said.

If Canada can demonstrate at the G20 Summit "that it's back in the multilateral game, that it's back wanting to work internationally and play a positive role internationally," then perhaps the country's reputation could improve, he said.

"I think the self-image of Canadians is important to Canadians," he said. "Canadians who are operating and working on [anything] relating to our reputation should pay attention to these early signals."

The poll's margin of error per country ranges from plus or minus 2.1 to 4.4 per cent, 19 times out of 20.