Half of Canadians disagree with sticking by Saudi arms deal, poll suggests

With criticisms of Canada's arms deal with Saudi Arabia mounting, a new poll suggests that most Canadians think the Liberals standing by the deal is a bad decision. But they also think that lifting sanctions on another regional power, Iran, may be good for Canada.

40% say normalizing relations and lifting sanctions against Iran would be good for Canada

The $15-billion deal that Canada helped secure in 2014 would see the London, Ont. based manufacturer General Dynamics Land Systems sell armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. (Mark Spowart/Canadian Press)

The Saudi arms deal is one that Canadians wish the government would refuse, a new poll suggests.

The poll, from the Angus Reid Institute, shows that only 19 per cent of Canadians think the government's decision to stick by the deal to sell light-armoured vehicles to the desert kingdom is a good one, with 48 per cent of Canadians thinking the opposite.

The remaining one-third of respondents were unsure.

The $15-billion deal with Saudi Arabia, signed under the previous Conservative government, has become increasingly controversial as the Middle Eastern country intensifies its involvement in a civil war in Yemen. It has led to calls for the government to abandon the deal, notably by former Liberal cabinet minister and human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler.

The poll was conducted in early February, when the issue was being widely covered in the media and being discussed on a near daily basis on Parliament Hill. But the poll was also conducted before Cotler's most recent statements on the deal in the Globe and Mail and reports of Canadian weapons being used in the war in Yemen emerged.

Cotler is not the only Liberal with some concerns about the deal. The poll suggests that Canadians who voted for the Liberals in the last election think standing by the deal is a bad decision by a two-to-one margin. Conservatives are more split but still look on the deal negatively, with 27 per cent thinking it a good decision and 35 per cent a bad one.

Dealing with the Saudis could cause some political trouble for the Liberals. The poll found that about half of Canadians think the country should have no ties or co-operation with Saudi Arabia, and 54 per cent said they were more inclined to condemn the Saudi government than to respect it (10 per cent).

Power Panel: Saudi arms deal

6 years ago
Duration 9:00
The Power Panel discusses the government's decision to continue the deal to sell LAVs to Saudi Arabia after former Liberal cabinet minister Irwin Cotler spoke out against the deal

More positive views on Iran

While the Liberal government's handling of the arms deal with the Saudis is looked upon disapprovingly by Canadians, that is not the case with its new approach towards another regional power, Iran.

The poll found that 40 per cent of Canadians thought normalizing relations and lifting sanctions against Iran would be good for Canada, with just 26 per cent saying it would be bad for this country. By a margin of four-to-one, Canadians thought that it would be good for Iran.

But they were less sure about whether lifting sanctions would be good for international security. While 30 per cent though it would be, 33 per cent disagreed.

This may be because, as with Saudi Arabia, Canadians have a negative view of Iran. Just nine per cent said they would be more inclined to respect Iran's theocratic government, while 55 per cent would be more inclined to condemn it.

Nevertheless, the poll suggests that Canadians think normalizing relations with Iran will have more net benefits than costs. But selling weapons to a country in the Middle East deeply involved with ongoing regional turmoil appears to go beyond many Canadians' comfort levels.

The poll by the Angus Reid Institute was conducted between Feb. 2 and 5, 2016, interviewing 1,507 Canadians via the Internet. As the sample was drawn from an online panel, 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.


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