A new poll released by World Vision Canada on Friday suggests that the majority of Canadians would support greater involvement by the federal government in international efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic globally despite concerns about the ballooning federal deficit.
The Abacus Data survey commissioned by World Vision ahead of World Refugee Day explored how Canadians feel about the pandemic through a global lens to learn more about Canadian attitudes towards an increased role for Ottawa in the global pandemic response.
David Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data, said the poll revealed a major shift in Canadian attitudes of concern and uncertainty during the early phases of the pandemic towards a more forward-thinking mindset, including how to prevent another large-scale outbreak from happening again.
“The first thing that changed is when we ask Canadians how concerned they are about a number of global issues – things like poverty, climate change, the migration of refugees – what’s clear is that this pandemic has put a spotlight on the spread of infectious disease,” Coletto said.
“And so we’ve seen from January, before the pandemic really took hold in Canada, a 13 percentage points increase in those who say they are extremely concerned or very concerned about this as a global issue.”
Almost seven out of 10 Canadians feel that way, Coletto said.
“As each of our lives have been affected by this pandemic here at home in terms of our work, in terms of our health, in terms of what we can cannot do, Canadians are also well aware and also increasingly concerned about the global connectedness of this issue and how we really aren’t an island, and what happens around the world, can affect us here going forward,” Coletto said.
While Canadians have been engaged with this issue here in Canada, most were also thinking about how the pandemic is affecting those in the poorer parts of the world, he said.
“I think that’s a reflection of the broad understanding and recognition that people have about how difficult this virus makes life for people, especially those living in more vulnerable and highly dense situations around the world,” Coletto said.
Julie McKinlay, team leader at World Vision Canada, said international humanitarian organizations faced funding challenges even before the pandemic.
“Often we’re struggling to inform the public about situations that are happening so far away and are really incomprehensible to a lot of Canadians when we’re dealing with protracted situations of violence and conflict,” McKinlay said. “COVID-19 has given us a good opportunity in the sense that Canadians are experiencing it firsthand and understanding.”
It’s important to understand that unless the pandemic is tackled globally, we’re going to see its impacts within Canada, McKinlay said.
“It’s important that we take care of our own in Canada, as all countries are doing, but then also continue to look to what our role is in the global environment as well,” McKinlay said.
In fact, the survey shows that Canadians understand that, Coletto said.
“More than ever, I think Canadians understand that our world is actually quite small and very interconnected,” Coletto said.
In fact, 88 per cent of Canadians agreed that our world is so interconnected that an outbreak in another part of the world could impact Canadians again, he said.
The survey shows Canadians are open to a much more vigorous role for Canada on the international development scene, Coletto said.
“I think the conventional wisdom might tell you that on the list of priorities international cooperation, international aid might test at the bottom. I always say that no Canadian would ever say no to a tax cut, but very few, when given the option would say, ‘Yes, spend more on foreign aid,” Coletto said. “But when you actually frame it around the issues we discussed in this conversation, the majority of the country says, ‘No, it makes sense for us to do this.'”
Canadians have come to understand that unless we stop the virus everywhere, no one is truly safe in Canada, he said.
“To me that’s the big takeaway. It’s that a lot of political leaders perceive a lot of risk in engaging on this question, right, that they are afraid of a so-called populist backlash, that a Canada First approach is always going to be the thing we want,” Coletto said.
“If leaders want to do this and they lead on it, I do think Canadians will follow and they will understand why it’s important to do it. It just requires just a little bit of leadership.”