Fewer Canadians 'strongly approve' of Afghan mission: survey

The number of Canadians who strongly support military participation in Afghanistan is at its lowest level yet, according to a survey.

Regional, gender differences in level of support

The number of Canadians who "strongly approve" of military participation in Afghanistan is at its lowest level yet, according to a new CBC News survey.

In a survey of 2,005 Canadians conducted by Environics Research Group from Nov. 2 to Nov. 6, 19 per cent said they strongly approved of Canadian military participation in Afghanistan. The poll is considered accurate within 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Thatrepresented a four percentage point drop from a similar poll inOctober, and the lowest level of support overall in four years. When the first survey was conducted in 2002, 38 per cent said they strongly approved of Canada's presence in Afghanistan.

Overall, 50 per cent of Canadians asked in November expressed some degree of approval, that is, they either"somewhat approve" or "strongly approve" of Canada'sparticipation in Afghanistan. While that total was up slightly from the October survey, it is a six percentage point drop from June of this year.

In 2002, 75 per cent of Canadians approved of the mission, while 61 per cent did in 2004.

When asked whether Canada should focus on peace building, or on active combat roles with our allies, 80 per cent said peace building, while only 16 per cent said in an active combat role.

David Bercuson, director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary,said he believes there's a great deal of confusion among Canadians about the role of the military in Afghanistan.

"It comes against the background of not really understanding that the traditional sorts of peacekeeping roles that we did in the 60s, 70s, and the 80s, are just not doable by our military anymore, they're not in our national interests," said Bercuson.

Regional differences

The survey also suggested support for the Afghanistan deployment varied among the regions.

The greatest support for the mission was found in the Prairie provinces, while the most opposition was in Quebec.

Ontario, British Columbia and Atlantic Canada were all nearly evenly split on the question of support.

While 54 per cent outside of Quebec expressed support for the mission, only 35 per cent within the province did, with 45 per cent responding that they "strongly disapprove."

Andrew Cohen, professor of journalism and international affairs at Carleton University, said that whilethe relative level of Quebec supportholds true to historical trends, it is of concern given the increasing role in the deployment of the Van Doos, based in Valcartier, Que.

"If there are casualties, those fallenCanadians will return to Quebec where there will be a sharper and more magnified focus on this war, which is probably going to be reflected in a greater distaste for it," said Cohen.

There was also a gender gap regarding the mission in Afghanistan. Among male respondents, 57 per cent expressed support for the mission, compared to only 43 per cent of women surveyed.

Thoughts on success

Canadians were asked, "Do you think in the end the Canadian mission is likely to be successful?" to which only 34 per cent said they thought it would be successful, compared to 58 per cent who said it would not be successful. Seven per cent did not know or were undecided.

That result suggested that many who support Canada's military presence in Afghanistan don't necessarily envision a successful outcome. Of those who approved the mission, 36 per cent responded that they ultimately didn't think it would be successful.

"I think people tend to conflate Iraq with Afghanistan," said Bercuson. "So the Americans and the so-called coalition is getting their clocks [cleaned] in Iraq, surely the same thing is going to happen in Afghanistan."

Canada now hasmore than 2,000 military personnel in Afghanistan and has had a presence in the country since 2002. Forty-two soldiers and one diplomat have died in the country since the mission began.

MostCanadians responded thatthe death toll alone was not reason enough to leave —56 per cent said that the number of soldiers killed was not a good reason to leave, while 41 per cent said it was.

The survey also asked Canadians about their overall opinion of the Armed Forces.

Seventy-three per cent of Canadians had a favourable opinion, down six percentage points from four years earlier. However, there was actually a one percentage point gain of those who had a very favourable opinion of the Armed Forces, to 34 per cent.

At the other end of the spectrum, 10 per cent of Canadians reported their opinion of the Armed Forces was not at all favourable. That was a six percentage point jump from 2002.