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Poll finds broad support for Ottawa’s handling of Huawei dispute

For the past two months, the arrest of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver has captured headlines across Canada and the world.

For the past two months, the arrest of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver has captured headlines across Canada and the world. We have witnessed several statements from governments that cannot genuinely be described as “diplomatic,” as well as an (now former) ambassador appearing to issue legal advice on the fly – not just once, but twice.

Meng is facing serious charges in the United States, including obstruction of justice and bank fraud, related to her company’s business dealings in Iran. The U.S. has formally requested Meng’s extradition. Documents unsealed last month allege that Huawei vowed to reward personnel for gathering confidential material from rivals and attempted to steal trade secrets from U.S.-based wireless network operator T-Mobile.

When the controversy over the arrest began last December, it became apparent that Canada’s justice minister would ultimately make a final decision on Meng’s future. Since then, the occupant of this key federal cabinet position has shifted, from British Columbia’s Jody Wilson-Raybould to Quebec’s David Lametti.

Earlier this month, Research Co. found that more than two in five Canadians (43%) say they have followed media stories related to Meng’s arrest “very closely” or “moderately closely” – a proportion that jumps to 49% in British Columbia.

There are three layers of analysis that are paramount to understanding how Canadians relate to this case: the responsibility of Canada in following through with Meng’s arrest, the prospect of a company that is facing immense scrutiny becoming involved in the future of Canada’s telecommunications industry, and what to do about bilateral ties with the People’s Republic of China.

For starters, more than three in five Canadians (63%) agree with the way Canadian authorities have acted in this case, while one in five (25%) disagrees and 12% are not sure.

Endorsement for the course of action that the federal government has chosen is highest among those aged 55 and over (73%), British Columbians (70%) and voters who supported the Liberal party in the 2015 federal election (76%).

At this stage, Canadians are decidedly suspicious of Huawei. A majority of Canadians (57%) believe Ottawa should not allow Huawei to participate in Canada’s 5G mobile network. The current level of antipathy towards this particular company reaches 61% among women and 63% among Canadians aged 55 and over.

Still, the biggest misgivings about Huawei are observed in British Columbia, where 73% of residents believe the company should play no role in Canada’s forthcoming 5G mobile network. No other region of the country comes close to this level of wariness.

British Columbians, who are exceptionally adamant about closing the door on Huawei, are not as negative about the People’s Republic of China as their counterparts in other provinces. While 50% of B.C. residents believe this is not the time for Canada to forge a closer relationship with China, the proportion of doubters is higher in Alberta and Atlantic Canada (54% each), Ontario and Quebec (55% each), and Saskatchewan and Manitoba (62%).

There are still a few weeks left before the justice minister makes a final call on whether to extradite Meng to the United States. As we await his verdict, the message Canadians are sending in this survey is clear.

There is a strong expression of support for the way Canadian authorities have behaved since this case began to unfold, even from Conservative party voters who usually stand against any action taken by the Liberal administration in Ottawa.

While some regional nuances persist in the way residents feel about China as a possible ally or trading partner, there are grave countrywide concerns about the idea of a company suspected of espionage and intellectual property theft having access to Canada’s 5G network. Regardless of which decision is taken on the fate of its chief financial officer, Canadians are now looking at Huawei in a distinctly more negative light than they did just 16 weeks ago. •

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.