What Do Canadians Think About the TPP? (Part 1)

Update: click here to view Part 2 of the “What Do Canadians Think About the TPP?” series.

Leaders of the 12 nations involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks are meeting this week in Maui, Hawaii, in a push to finalize an agreement.

Recent developments in the United States have provided TPP partners with a renewed sense of purpose. President Obama has been granted Trade Promotion Authority, a legislated fast-track authority to negotiate international agreements that Congress can approve or disapprove but cannot amend or filibuster. With an election approaching in 2016, the U.S. administration sees a window of opportunity to finalize and pass TPP before campaign season heats up.

As TPP moves from the negotiation stage to ratification, the agreement will be introduced in the national legislatures of the participating countries. Public opinion will play a significant role in shaping the debates surrounding the deal, including here in Canada.

So what do Canadians think about the TPP?

In this post, we review six different surveys that asked Canadians various questions about the agreement. These surveys provide some insight into what Canadians’ know about TPP, their levels of support or opposition for the agreement, and the perceived effects of the deal.

Do Canadians know what the TPP is?

It is clear that many Canadians do not know what the TPP is, though there are significant differences across surveys regarding the extent of that awareness.

In a 2015 survey conducted by Environics Research Group for Trade Justice Network (TJN), a social justice collective that challenges the scope and negotiating process of most free trade agreements, 75 per cent of Canadians reported they have never heard of the TPP. This is a high number that has been widely cited by national media outlets.

Non-partisan surveys by the Angus Reid Institute (ARI) and the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada (APF Canada) also suggest that there is a significant proportion of Canadians who are unaware of TPP — but not to the same extent as the figures reported by TJN.

Results from APF Canada’s 2012 National Opinion Poll indicate that 31 per cent of Canadians have never heard about the TPP, while 11 per cent are uncertain about their stance on the agreement.

In its April 2015 survey, the ARI found that approximately 48 per cent of Canadians are not informed enough about the TPP to have an opinion about it.

We suspect that large cross-survey differences in TPP awareness can partially be explained by differences in questionnaire design. While TJN does not report the wording of its survey questions, making it difficult to interpret findings across surveys, we do know that both the APF Canada and ARI surveys presented respondents with a ‘lack of awareness’ option in the context of questions about support or opposition to the TPP. It is likely that many Canadians are comfortable providing their position on trade agreements without knowing the specifics, which could explain the more modest percentage of Canadians reporting no or low knowledge of the TPP in the ARI and APF Canada surveys.

Do Canadians support the TPP?

Overall, more Canadians support the TPP than oppose it. This has been a consistent pattern across surveys and across time. Three surveys asked Canadians about their level of support for the trade agreement:

  • APF Canada’s 2012 found that of those who are familiar with the deal, 40 per cent support Canada joining the TPP, while 18 per cent oppose
  • ARI finds a similar result in its 2015 survey, where support levels (41%) exceed opposition levels (11%) by a large margin.
  • The Pew Research Centre’s poll this year found that just over half of all Canadians think that the TPP would be a “good thing” for the country (52%), while 31 per cent think it would be a “bad thing”

What are the perceived effects of the deal for the Canadian economy?

Canadians have mixed opinions on the effects of the TPP for our national economy.

A 2012 Nanos survey found that 43 per cent of Canadians believe that a free trade agreement with the Asia Pacific countries that make up the TPP will have positive impacts on the Canadian economy, and 18 per cent associate the TPP with negative economic impacts. Roughly one in five Canadians is unsure about the effects of a trade agreement, while the same proportion believes that it will have a neutral impact on the economy.

Similarly, a 2012 poll conducted by Forum Research for Canadian Business found that roughly 55 per cent of Canadians agree that the TPP would be good for the Canadian economy, while approximately 29 per cent disagree.

Almost half of all respondents (47%) in the TJN survey believe that Canada is more likely to lose jobs if the TPP is ratified, whereas only five per cent think Canada is more likely to gain jobs. A significant percentage (46%) was not sure about the labour market impacts of the agreement.

Canadian Business also touched on issues of supply chain management of Canadian dairy and poultry products, a prominent issue in the Canadian media coverage of TPP. Approximately 55 per cent of Canadians believe that supply management is beneficial for our economy, and 29 per cent disagree. Furthermore, for 67 per cent of Canadians, it is important for the government to protect our supply management system for dairy and poultry products. Just over half of all Canadians (56%) perceive that paying a higher price for dairy and poultry products is a reasonable trade-off for protecting the dairy and poultry industries.

What do we take away from these findings?

First, there is a segment of the Canadian population that does not know about the existence of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, though there is significant variation in the extent of awareness across surveys.

Second, Canadians tend to be supportive of the agreement. This is a consistent finding from the three surveys where respondents were asked their opinions of the TPP.

Third, Canadians have mixed views on the economic effects of the TPP. At least one poll found that there is a fear that Canadians may lose their jobs if the deal is finalized, and there are some worries about the effects of an agreement on the dairy and poultry sectors. Overall, though, there is optimism amongst Canadians about the effects of the deal on our national economy.

These patterns seem to be relatively stable over time, but as we move into the public debate, we may expect to see some changes. Watch this space for updates as we learn more.

TPP Survey Snapshots:

Organization

Year

Key Questions

Key Findings

Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada

2012

  • Based on what you have read, seen, heard, and know about the Trans-Pacific Partnership to what degree do you support or oppose Canada joining the TPP?
  • 40% of all Canadians support Canada joining, and 18% oppose
  • 31% of Canadians have not heard of the TPP

Angus Reid Institute

2015

  • Canada is currently in talks to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (or TPP), which is a proposed regulatory and investment treaty involving several countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
  • Based on whatever you may have seen or heard about this and on your own general impressions, would you say you support or oppose the idea of Canada joining the Trans‐Pacific Partnership?
  • 41% of Canadians support the TPP, and 11% oppose
  • 48% of Canadians do not have an opinion (“Can't say/Don't know”)

Canadian Business

2012

  • Do you agree or disagree that the Trans-Pacific Partnership would be good for Canada's economy?
  • How important is it for the government to protect this system of supply management in dairy and poultry products?
  • Do you agree or disagree that paying a higher price for dairy and poultry products than others is a fair trade-off for protecting dairy and poultry farmers from foreign competition
  • 55% of Canadians agree that the TPP would be good for Canada's economy and 29% disagree
  • For 67% of Canadians, it is important that the government protect the dairy and poultry sectors.

Nanos

2012

  • Do you think that new free trade agreements with the following groups of countries would have a positive, somewhat positive, neutral, somewhat negative or negative impact on the Canadian economy: [The Asia Pacific countries that make up the Trans-Pacific Partnership]
  • 43% of Canadians think that a free trade agreement with the TPP nations will have a positive impact on our economy, and 18% associate the deal with negative impacts
  • 20% of Canadians are unsure about the effects of a deal

Pew Research Centre

2015

  • Would TPP be a good thing for our country or a bad thing?
  • 52% of Canadians think that the TPP would be a “good thing” for Canada, and 31% think it will be a bad thing

Trade and Justice Network

2015

  • Unknown
  • 75% of Canadians have never heard of the TPP 
  • 47% are more likely to believe that Canada will lose jobs if the deal is finalized

 

 

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