32% of Canadians support TPP trade deal but many uncertain, poll suggests

A new Angus Reid Institute poll suggests that half of Canadians have no opinion on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, leaving a vacuum for proponents and opponents of the deal to try to fill.

Canadians expect benefits for country overall, but possible damage to their own communities

International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland was in New Zealand this week to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a deal that Canadians aren't sure about. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

More Canadians believe the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement will benefit the economy than those who think otherwise, but there is more pessimism about the effect the trade deal will have on employment in local communities, suggests a new poll.

The survey, conducted by the Angus Reid Institute between Jan. 27 and 31, gauged Canadians' views on the TPP. The trade deal among a dozen Asia-Pacific countries was signed by International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland on Wednesday in New Zealand (Thursday local time), and the government has two years to ratify it.

But the poll suggests that half of Canadians have no opinion on the trade deal that gathers together nations totalling almost two-fifths of world GDP, including the United States and Japan.

Support for Canada joining the TPP stood at 32 per cent in the poll, with 20 per cent of respondents saying they opposed joining the deal. But that still left 49 per cent of Canadians without an opinion.

These numbers have been holding steady for some time, with the Angus Reid Institute finding the number of people unsure of what they think of the TPP ranging from 44 to 49 per cent since first polling on the subject last year. Support has also held steady since September at around one-in-three, but that is a steep decline from the 41 per cent who said they supported the TPP in April, when negotiations were still underway.

Public opinion polling on the Trans-Pacific Partnership by the Angus Reid Institute. (Angus Reid Institute)

Support for the TPP was highest among Conservative voters at 48 per cent, with just nine per cent opposing it. New Democrats were the least likely to support the deal, at just 18 per cent, and 33 per cent said they opposed it. Liberals were split along the same lines as Canadians as a whole, with 34 per cent in favour of Canada joining the TPP and 21 per cent against it. 

Good for the country, bad for the community

While views on the TPP have remained largely unchanged since the election, the findings of the poll suggested more nuanced views of what effects the deal would have on the country.

A plurality of Canadians thought that the TPP would be good for consumer choices and the Canadian economy, with 42 per cent saying that the TPP would benefit the economy. Another 28 per cent said it would cause harm, with 31 per cent saying it would have no effect.

But when asked about the impact the TPP would have on employment in the respondents' local area, only 22 per cent said it would be positive, against 31 per cent who said it would be negative. Nearly half of respondents said there would be no impact.

While the proportion of Canadians saying the effect on their communities or the wider economy would be positive has not changed much since October, the number saying the impact would be negative has increased. 

This mixed attitude Canadians appear to have toward the TPP may explain the emphasis that Freeland has made on the signature of the treaty in New Zealand not equating to a ratification. The NDP has also used question period to highlight concerns related to the trade deal.

But an opening exists for both proponents and opponents of the TPP to fill the vacuum that the poll suggests exists in Canadian public opinion. It provides an opportunity to convince those who have not yet made up their minds or thought much about the Trans-Pacific Partnership that the deal will either be good or bad for the country.

Whoever fills that vacuum may carry the day. 

The poll by the Angus Reid Institute was conducted between Jan. 27 and 31, 2016, interviewing 1,503 Canadians via the internet. As the poll was conducted online, a margin of error does not apply.


Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.