Five years after Trudeau promised Canada was ‘back’ on the world stage, many Canadians say we’re in the same place

Five years after Trudeau promised Canada was ‘back’ on the world stage, many Canadians say we’re in the same place

By Dave Korzinski, Research Director

Cast your mind back to 2015. Yes, even last October’s election feels like eons ago, but go back one further. Justin Trudeau, freshly victorious in his pursuit of a second leadership era for his lineage, announced to Canada’s international allies a simple message: “We’re back”.

Canada’s international image had suffered, according to Trudeau, under the leadership of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. This, after Harper’s priorities placed “military aid over peacekeeping, unilateralism over teamwork” and “free trade over foreign aid”. The new government was going to forge a new path and put the “Liberal” back in Canada’s foreign policy. For Trudeau, a key element of reinstating Canada’s place on the world stage, alongside this shift in approach, was a seat on the United Nations Security Council. In March 2016, five months into his first term, Trudeau announced Canada’s bid to secure one of two available temporary, two-year seats.

Trudeau had a prominent supporter in then-President Barack Obama who proclaimed in front of a parliamentary audience in 2016 that “the world needs more Canada”.

Alas, in a twist of irony, exactly one decade since the Conservative government failed in its bid for a seat, to the scathing rebuke of Liberals, the same fate befell this government, to the scathing rebuke of Conservatives.

Some have speculated that the failed bid was due to any number of reasons: being outworked by Ireland and Norway: putting forth a muddled message, having promoted a feminist foreign policy while continuing to sell arms to a Saudi Arabian regime with repressive laws toward women; or deploying historically low number of peacekeeping officers, once a hallmark of Canadian international engagement, in recent years. The cause is ultimately up for debate, but one of the results appears to be that Canadian opinion of how they are viewed by the international community is no different now than it was when Trudeau made his famous proclamation five years ago.

Same number say Canada’s image has worsened as did in 2015

Indeed, new data from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute finds that two-in-five Canadians say their country’s international reputation has worsened over the past decade (41%). In 2015, during the campaign for the 42nd federal election, an identical number (39%) said the same about the country’s image under Prime Minister Harper. The Liberals appeared to have made some progress in 2018, as the number saying Canada’s image had improved was higher than the number who said it had worsened, but that positive opinion has now waned:

views of canada

The consistency in national opinion on this question from 2015 to 2020 is largely attributed to shifting but counterbalancing partisan support. Today, seven-in-ten past Conservative voters say Canada’s image has worsened over the past decade (71%). Just one-in-five (21%) said this in 2015 when Stephen Harper was still leading the country. Meanwhile, just 11 per cent of recent Liberal voters now say Canada’s image has worsened, while six-in-ten (58%) said this in 2015. Perhaps troublingly for Trudeau on this file, just 45 per cent of his party’s recent voters say Canada’s image has improved:

Most still feel Canada is viewed positively

Despite the lack of perceived progress from Canadians, the vast majority see Canada’s reputation as at least good when it comes to the international community’s appraisal. Just 11 per cent see it as poor.

canada international image

Aside from the recent news from the UN, Canada has also been involved in diplomatic strife with China, which has caused many allies to speak out in its favour after two Canadian citizens, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, were detained by the Chinese government on what many have called “baseless” allegations of spying. Earlier this year, Prime Minister Trudeau drew praise both at home and abroad for his handling of the fallout of the crash of a Ukrainian airline in Iran that killed 57 Canadians. In the United States, Trudeau has been lauded in recent weeks for his handling of the COVID-19 outbreak in comparison to U.S. President Donald Trump.

Majorities in every region of the country feel that Canada has a ‘very good’ or ‘good’ reputation. Even in Alberta, where opinion is most negative, ‘good’ outpaces ‘bad’ by a two-to-one margin:

canada international image

Nonetheless, a downward trend is noted on this question too. In 2018, 84 per cent of residents felt Canada had a good image abroad. These latest data represent a 13-point drop in that opinion:

canada international image

The Prime Minister’s short-term priorities likely preclude any significant worry about Canada’s international standing. An ethics investigation looms, and the country is crawling out of a pandemic-driven economic shutdown. When the time for reflection comes, he and his government will be taking stock of a vision that, despite its considerable differences, has in many ways failed to distinguish itself in results from its predecessor.


For detailed results by age, gender, region, education, and other demographics, click here.

Contact: Dave Korzinski, Research Director: 250.899.0821

The Angus Reid Institute conducted an online survey from June 25 – 26, 2020 among a representative randomized sample of 1,488 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 +/- 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding. The survey was self-commissioned and paid for by ARI.

Want advance notice for our latest polls? Sign up here!