As the war in Ukraine approaches the two-year mark, Canadians’ attention is plunging, as is support among Conservative voters, according to a new Angus Reid survey.
Since Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, and at key points over the course of the conflict, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed the Canadian government will be there to support Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for as long as it takes.
Though, it appears Canadians’ backing of continued support for Ukraine is waning, with past Conservative voters driving a now-doubled sentiment among respondents that Canada is doing “too much” to assist.
According to an Angus Reid Institute survey of Canadians conducted last week, 25 per cent of those surveyed believe Canada is offering more than it should, up from 13 per cent who said the same in May 2022.
While support for Ukraine is on the decline among Canadians of all political affiliations, past Conservative ballot-casters are the most likely to say Canada should stay out of the war.
The number of Canadians who voted Conservative in the 2021 federal election who say Canada has done too much has risen from 19 to 43 per cent between May 2022 and now, the survey found.
Poilievre trade stance
Digging down further into the sentiment among Conservatives, the Angus Reid report notes that the growing resistance to supporting Ukraine among Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s base has “coincided with the questions and speculation surrounding the party, and leader’s, official position on the war.”
These questions have largely swirled as a result of Poilievre and his caucus rejecting a bill to implement the updated Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement, over carbon pricing wording concerns.
While Conservatives have asserted their opposition to the legislation is because they are taking a stance on the carbon tax and not because of any faltering resolve in their backing of Ukraine in the war, the Liberals have pounced on the position, accusing their opponents of appeasing Vladimir “Putin apologists.”
The text of the modernized trade deal does include a broad commitment that both countries would bilaterally and internationally “promote carbon pricing and measures to mitigate carbon leakage risks,” but the legislation to implement it — Bill C-57, the “Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act, 2023” — does not include any wording that would force either country to have a pollution pricing plan.
Moreover, Ukraine has had its own price on carbon for more than a decade, and officials have indicated the country is looking forward to working on further climate policies, in line with European Union membership requirements.
Angus Reid’s latest data indicates that “on average” Canadians see the Conservatives voting against the trade deal revamp as a “net negative” for the country’s international reputation and for trust in a potential future Conservative government to stand up for allied countries in the future.
“By a three-to-one ratio, Canadians believe the CPC vote against the Canada-Ukraine free trade agreement will have a more negative than positive effect on Canada’s reputation on the world stage. Half of likely CPC voters believe there will be no effect at all,” reads the report, published Tuesday.
On Monday, the Conservatives tried to pass an amendment to Bill C-57 seeking to send the bill back to the committee study stage to remove “all references to carbon pricing and carbon leakage.” That effort failed with all other parties voting to reject the change and uphold the legislation as drafted.
War attention waning
There was a time where half of Canadians indicated they’d shown some support for Ukraine, whether on social media, with a flag in their window, making a donation or helping a refugee family. But, as the war persists and the death toll for soldiers and civilians continues to climb, Canadians’ attention appears to be significantly waning across the political spectrum.
In May 2022, two-thirds of Canadians surveyed — 65 per cent — said they were closely following Russia-Ukraine developments, while less than half of those recently surveyed — 45 per cent — said they’re keeping a close eye on related news now.
This fatigue does not appear to be transferring to Canadians’ views on whether the war is winnable for Ukraine, with still 62 per cent of those surveyed indicating they believe the war will end with a Ukrainian victory.
What continued role Canada should be playing in helping Ukraine as it continues to fight Russia for that victory appears to be more of an open question.
What about Canadian aid?
Since the war began, Canada has provided more than $2 billion in military donations, and more than $500 million in humanitarian, development and security aid offerings. Two years since Angus Reid first asked, the percentage of Canadians who think the federal government is offering too much has doubled.
A majority of Canadians — 57 per cent — said they think Canada has already completely, or mostly, fulfilled its promises to Ukraine.
One-third of respondents said Canada should support Ukraine “as long as it takes,” while 10 per cent believe our support should continue for just one more year. Another 20 per cent suggested that at this juncture, peace negotiations initiated by Ukraine would be best.
Just five per cent of Canadians surveyed said Canada should pull its backing now, while 30 per cent are uncertain on what this country’s support should look like going forward.
Specifically on military help, Conservative supporters are the least enthusiastic about indefinite Canadian military assistance, according to the report, while the majority of Liberal voters think Canada should provide military aid “as long as it takes.”
This past weekend, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly was in Kyiv, and after the visit in a social media post Zelenskyy expressed his gratitude for Canada’s “unwavering support.”
This weekend, I had the honour to return to Kyiv, Ukraine. My message to Ukrainians was simple: Canada stands with you, and we are not going anywhere. Thank-you for having me, @DmytroKuleba. pic.twitter.com/snbHRx2DCE
— Mélanie Joly (@melaniejoly) February 4, 2024
METHODOLOGY: The Angus Reid Institute conducted an online survey from Jan. 29 to Jan. 31, 2024, among a representative randomized sample of 1,617 Canadian adults who are members of Angus Reid Forum. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- two percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding.