As the grim two-year anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine approaches, a new poll suggests Canadians' engagement with the conflict is waning and support for Ukraine is weakening — especially among Conservatives.
A survey released Tuesday morning by the Angus Reid Institute says a quarter of Canadians believe Canada is offering "too much support" to Ukraine in its fight, up from 13 per cent who said the same thing in May 2022.
Conservative supporters are a driving force behind that result, according to the poll.
The percentage of Canadians who voted for the Conservative Party in the last election, and who now say Canada is doing too much to assist Ukraine, has more than doubled — from 19 per cent in May 2022 to 43 per cent now — according to the public opinion research group's findings.
"It's ... a massive jump," said Shachi Kurl, president of Angus Reid Institute. "This has the potential to be something of a political Gordian knot for Pierre Poilievre."
Sorting out the reasons behind the shift is largely an exercise in speculation at this point, said Kurl.
On the one hand, she said, there's a longstanding tradition of support for the military among Conservative voters. That position may be in tension with Conservative support for small governments and lower taxes, she added.
"I don't want to overemphasize it … but what is burgeoning, what is starting to sort of grow from out of the weeds into a fairly healthy seedling here, is this almost the Trump-esque, 'Canada First' mentality," she said.
"That mindset of conservative is not representative of the majority of the Conservative Party base in the country, or the entirety of the base. It is a minority, but it is a passionate, vocal and growing minority."
The poll suggests the belief that Canada is giving Ukraine too much is also growing among NDP and Liberal voters. The percentage of voters who think Canada is doing too much for Ukraine jumped from 5 to 10 per cent among 2021 Liberal supporters, and from 5 to 12 per cent among 2021 NDP supporters.
Since early 2022, the federal government has committed more than $2.4 billion in military assistance and more than $352 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
An emotional debate about trade with Ukraine
The poll landed a day after another emotional debate in the House of Commons over a bill to implement an update to the Canada-Ukraine free trade deal.
The Liberals accused Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and his party of abandoning Ukraine when Conservative MPs voted against the bill in November. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has attributed the opposition to "American MAGA-influenced thinking."
Poilievre, whose party has maintained a large polling lead over Trudeau's Liberals for months, has said his party still supports Ukraine and its objection is to the mention of "carbon pricing" in the legislation.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre addresses the national Conservative caucus on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
"I really think it speaks to how pathologically obsessed Trudeau is with the carbon tax that, while the knife is at the throat of Ukrainians, he would use that to impose his carbon tax ideology on those poor people," Poilievre said in November.
The trade agreement imposes no obligation on the Ukrainian government to introduce a carbon tax.
Last week, Poilievre called on the Liberal government to donate to Ukraine tens of thousands of surplus air-to-ground rockets that are slated for disposal.
The Angus Reid poll suggests Canadians, by a three-to-one ratio, believe the Conservatives' vote against the Canada-Ukraine free trade agreement will undermine Canada's reputation on the world stage. Half of likely Conservative voters believe there will be no effect at all, the poll says.
Kurl said elections based on foreign policy issues are rare in Canada, but for the first time in months Poilievre's opponents have something to talk about.
"He's spent little to no time on the defence and it has enabled him to stay very disciplined in terms of message and stay very focused in terms of a relentless attack on the government. And I'm not saying that those attacks in some cases haven't been cogent, or that they haven't been the result of really a litany ... of own-goals on the part of this government," said Kurl.
"But, you know, for the first time we we may be seeing something that puts Poilievre on the defence ..."
Canadians' interest dwindling
The Angus Reid Institute's survey suggests the number of Canadians closely following news of the conflict has dropped from 66 per cent in May 2022 to 45 per cent now.
"Overall, Canadians are checking out of this conflict," said Kurl.
"And you can see that those who are less engaged are much more likely to also say, you know, we're helping too much, we've fulfilled our commitments."
The poll suggests Canadians remain divided on the role Canada should play in the war going forward.
One third of respondents agreed Canada should support Ukraine "as long as it takes," while one-in-ten believe that support should continue for only another year.
Foreign Minister Melanie Joly speaks to the media during a press conference with Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Kyiv, Ukraine on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletk)
Another 30 per cent are uncertain, while 20 per cent say they believe the war should end now with negotiations for peace initiated by Ukraine.
Just five per cent of respondents want Canada to end its support entirely.
The Angus Reid Institute conducted the online survey from Jan. 29 to Jan. 31, 2024 using a randomized sample of 1,617 Canadian adults who are members of Angus Reid Forum.
For comparison purposes, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points, 19 times out of 20.