Canada's Department of National Defence has released the results of a public opinion survey conducted by the Earnscliffe Strategy Group between February and April 2018.
Here are six takeaways:
1) The second-biggest security threat to Canada is... the United States?
This is a striking result, especially since Canada is arguably under no greater physical threat now than it was in 2016. But I wouldn't assume that respondents were thinking about security in this way. The poll probably reveals, instead, a more general concern about the impact of the Trump administration on Canadian interests, including our economic interests. (After all, if you look further down the list, Donald Trump is cited as the fourth-biggest threat.) Nervousness about the US administration seems to be acute – and this poll was conducted before Trump imposed steel sanctions on Canada and before the G7 summit, when he attacked Justin Trudeau.
2) Canadians love NATO.
Support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has long cut across all political parties and demographics, so this result is not a surprise. It's a reflection of a deep-rooted liberal internationalism in Canadian public attitudes. But it puts Canada increasingly at odds with the United States at a time when Trump is questioning the value of the alliance and Republican voters are following their president's lead.
3) Public awareness of the Canadian military is low and declining.
Nearly three-quarters of respondents had not seen, read or heard anything about the Canadian Armed Forces in the previous year. This figure is lower than in previous years, presumably because Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan, which had attracted sustained media attention, ended in 2011.
4) But the public continues to have a very positive view of the military.
The CAF experienced a popularity surge in Canada during the Afghanistan war. This has endured, even as public awareness of the military has declined.
5) Canada has a new defence policy, but Canadians don't know about it.
This is a classic example of the Ottawa bubble. In June 2017, the federal government issued Strong, Secure, Engaged, a major policy statement which included a plan to increase defence spending by 73 percent. Many people in Ottawa – and nearly everyone in Canada's defence, security, and foreign policy circles – are aware of it. But it's largely invisible to the public.
6) Canadians are wary of combat missions, but do they understand the risks of "peace support operations"?
Canadians strongly agree that the CAF should be performing non-combat roles, including disaster relief and non-combat roles supporting the United Nations or NATO. They are less supportive of anything that smacks of combat.
One response is noteworthy: High approval for "peace support operations" suggests that the public considers it to be a non-combat activity. In practice, however, today's peace support operations take place in insecure environments where fighting is not uncommon. Canada is in the process of deploying 250 troops and equipment to one such mission, in Mali. Government officials have warned that this mission involves risk to Canadian troops – but has the public heard this warning?