Mar. 22, 2003
 
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Martin Regg Cohn in Saudi Arabia  
Sandro Contenta in Iraq  
Linda Diebel in Washington  
Rosie DiManno in Jordan  
Mitch Potter on Iraq-Syria border  
Sonia Verma in Turkey  
Olivia Ward in Israel  
Canadians back Chrétien on war, poll finds
71% approve of decision to stay out

TIM HARPER
OTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF

OTTAWA—Jean Chrétien's decision to stay out of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has met with widespread approval in this country and is backed by a majority of respondents everywhere except Alberta, according to a Star poll.

The poll, conducted for the Star and the Montreal newspaper La Presse by EKOS Research Associates, found 71 per cent of those polled backed the decision by the Liberal government, with 27 per cent registering their disapproval.

Although a clear majority of 60 per cent say they object to the military move by U.S. President George W. Bush, 35 per cent of Canadians back him, support that rose during the week and an indication that a significant number of voters in this country back Washington's move as well as Ottawa's decision to stay apart from it.

Chrétien's Liberal government decided to stay out of the U.S.-led invasion because Washington could not win multilateral authorization for the war at the United Nations. But Canada still has three frigates in the region as part of a war on terrorism, leading some to suggest the government is having it both ways, winning support politically for snubbing the Americans while making some assets available to support the Americans.

Chrétien's move, announced Monday, sparked a week of heated political debate here with the Prime Minister striving to paint his decision as an independent Canadian move while not criticizing Bush.

That was made more difficult with Wednesday's comments by his natural resources minister, Herb Dhaliwal. He said he felt Bush failed as a statesman and let the world down, remarks he later clarified to indicate they were not a personal criticism of the U.S. president or his administration.

The NDP and the Bloc Québécois backed Chrétien, but Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper has thrown parliamentary nicety out the window in his attacks on the Liberals, a government he has described as "gutless and juvenile" and one he says has turned its back on Canadian values and traditions.

EKOS interviewed 720 Canadians beginning Monday, after Chrétien made his announcement and ending Thursday evening, before yesterday's massive bombing of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities by the U.S. It says its results are considered accurate to within 3.7 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The poll also found almost unprecedented awareness and interest among Canadians in the war and this country's role.

EKOS president Frank Graves said Canadian sympathy for Bush's position rose during the week, likely because people in this country began to believe he might show restraint and try to force mass Iraqi desertions or a quick surgical strike at Saddam Hussein.

Yesterday's strikes on the Iraqi capital may have ended any rebound Bush was receiving in public opinion in this country, Graves said.

Graves also said part of the Canadian strengthening of support for Bush's position may have been a reaction to what voters perceived to have been some "strident antipathy" toward the Americans from Liberals, including Dhaliwal, Mississauga Centre MP Carolyn Parrish who referred to them as "bastards," and the infamous "moron" comment from Chrétien's former communications director, Françoise Ducros.

EKOS found the greatest support for the Liberal position in Quebec, among women, those who are university educated and who described themselves as Canadian nationalists.

Those most fervently opposed to the Chrétien position lived in Alberta, were among the country's most affluent and overwhelmingly are Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative supporters.

The polar opposite positions in Alberta and Quebec are most striking, Graves said. He added frustration in Alberta may have repercussions in the future because it seems to be constantly offside on national issues, while anti-American sentiment in Quebec was the strongest EKOS has seen in 10 years.





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