*** This hurts. Alot. MS ***
Canadians are famously apologetic.
Now an international poll, released Thursday, gives them one more reason to be self-effacing. Since last year, it finds, views of Canada's influence have worsened in some of the world's most powerful countries – and at home.
"Until last year, perceptions of Canadian influence had been on the rise in many countries," according to the poll of about 20,000 people across 18 countries, done by the international opinion research company GlobeScan and the BBC World Service.
But on the eve of the 2010 Olympics, "ratings of Canada's influence in the world by some of Canada's major trading partners have declined sharply for the first time since tracking began in 2005."
The biggest drops in ratings were in the United States, where the proportion of people who saw Canada's influence as positive fell to 67 per cent last year from 82 per cent in 2008, and China, where it plunged to 54 per cent from 75 per cent.
In Britain, positive ratings sank to 62 per cent from 74 per cent over the past year. And in Australia, one of the most favourably disposed countries, they declined to 72 per cent from 77 per cent.
The self-image of Canadians also dwindled. The 86 per cent who felt positive about their country's influence in 2008 shrank to 75 per cent last year.
"Canada's reputation is quivering," said GlobeScan's Canadian chairman Doug Miller.
Nevertheless, the poll pointed out, Canada is still one of the world's most positively viewed countries, and overall, with only Germany felt to have a more positive influence in the world. Canada's influence was rated most highly in France, with 79 per cent positive responses.
Although the survey doesn't ask questions about motive, Miller said, "in most of the countries where figures declined there was negative media attention related to environmental topics."
Canada's record on climate change, and poor showing at the Copenhagen conference, won widespread condemnation last year. Ottawa was targeted for ridicule by environmental groups.
"These numbers may be a sign that our present federal government's consistently awful performance on climate change is now harming the world's view of Canada overall," said Matthew Bramley, director of climate change for the Pembina Institute.
There may be other issues at stake, said Paul Heinbecker of Wilfrid Laurier University and the Centre for International Governance Innovation.
"Canada has played down the significance of China for years, and if you look at the Middle East and beyond, it has aligned itself with Israel on everything to do with the Palestinians. Our military gets good reviews for Afghanistan, but once we're out of there, we don't have much else to point to when it comes to diplomacy," he said.
There is some good news for Canadians in the survey.
"Negative feelings about Canada haven't deeply registered with the public in many countries yet," said Miller. "The numbers aren't going from positive to negative, they're going from positive to mixed."
Public opinion is made up of many factors, said Jonathan Rose, an associate professor of political studies at Queen's University.
"It's a combination of top-of-head, well-formed opinion, current events and perception of leadership."