Most Canadians approve of trade deal with European Union, poll suggests

A new poll suggests that a majority of Canadians are onboard with the CETA trade deal ratified in Strasbourg on Wednesday, though the share who aren't sure about it has increased significantly.

While just 10% of Canadians oppose CETA, the number who have no opinion increases 13 points

More Canadians support developing closer ties with the European Union than with China, the U.K., or India, according to a new poll. (The Associated Press / Thierry Monasse)

A majority of Canadians approve of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union, ratified Wednesday in a vote in the European Parliament, according to a new poll — but support for CETA has dropped as more Canadians now say they are not sure what to think of it.

This is in contrast to their views of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which is now gaining favour as it is increasingly being questioned and criticized by an unpopular U.S. president.

The survey, conducted by the Angus Reid Institute, found that 55 per cent of Canadians said they approved of CETA, down 13 points from July 2014, when negotiations were in the final stages.

Opposition to the trade agreement, however, has not changed. Just 10 per cent of Canadians are opposed to it, down only one point. Instead, the shift has been among those who have no opinion: their share has increased from 22 to 35 per cent.

Why Canadians would be more unsure of the deal today than they were more than two years ago — when only the broad strokes of the deal were known — can only be guessed at.

Before, the deal was hypothetical with its impacts only to be felt in the future, whereas now Canadians are faced with its implementation. Or perhaps it is because of the political arguments that have been made for and against CETA as the details have been filled in, leaving more Canadians unsure what to think of it.

EU preferred over China, U.K.

But that Canadians appear open to increasing trade links with the European Union over other countries is clear from the poll: one-third of respondents listed the EU as one of their top two preferences for countries or regions with which Canada should develop closer trade ties.

The EU placed narrowly ahead of China and the United Kingdom, while only a small minority preferred deeper trade ties with Central and South America, India or south-east Asia.

But nearly half, or 49 per cent, said that Canada should continue focusing its trade efforts on the United States.

The poll was conducted in the midst of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this week. 

Canadians re-embrace NAFTA

Just prior to his visit, an Angus Reid Institute poll had found that NAFTA was becoming more popular: 44 per cent of respondents said that NAFTA has generally benefited Canada, an increase of 19 points since June 2016 — before Trump had officially become the Republican nominee for president. 

The proportion of Canadians who said that NAFTA has hurt Canada was cut in half to just 13 per cent. The poll also found fewer Canadians were keen on re-negotiating NAFTA while more were supportive of strengthening and expanding it.

With Trump, who has low approval ratings north of the border, calling NAFTA the "worst trade deal ever," its importance to Canada has been emphasized and defended in recent months. This may explain the up-tick in Canadians' support for it.

But with a majority already backing CETA, there is less of a pressing need for the Liberals to further sell Canadians on it. Nevertheless, with those on the fence over the deal increasing, Trudeau does have an incentive to ensure that those without a firm opinion today do not fall on the opposing side of the argument tomorrow. He'll be making that pitch when he speaks to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Thursday.

The poll on CETA by the Angus Reid Institute was conducted on Feb. 13 and 14, 2017, interviewing via the Internet 1,509 Canadian adults who are members of the Angus Reid Forum. A probabilistic sample of this size would yield a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The poll on NAFTA by the Angus Reid Institute was conducted between Feb. 6 and 9, 2017, interviewing via the Internet 1,508 Canadian adults who are members of the Angus Reid Forum. A probabilistic sample of this size would yield a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.


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.