Albertans are on the fence about investment from the east, according to a new survey from the China Institute at the University of Alberta.
The 10-question survey comes as the second annual report the Institute has conducted, gauging 1,210 Albertan views on a variety of issues surrounding China.
Some of the conclusions drawn from the survey data include the belief that China’s economic rise is not threatening to Canada, promotion of energy exports to China is desirable and investments in Alberta energy or full ownership of Alberta-based companies by Chinese enterprises is not desirable.
China Institute Director Gordon Houlden said the major difference between this year’s survey and last year’s lies in the questions that were asked.
“It’s not that we started asking negative questions. This year, we asked the question, should Alberta allow partial ownership of resources and Alberta-based companies? We got … quite an even split,” he explained.
“When we refined the question to ask, ‘What about state enterprises?’ Then support dropped off. And when we said, ‘What about 100 per cent ownership?’ It dropped off further.”
Houlden said the survey was conducted before China’s bid for oil sands corporation Nexen exploded onto the media scene — meaning the publicized deal did not influence the opinions of those surveyed.
“It’s not cheap to run a large survey, (but) what we might do next year is tease out the reason behind (the results): why Albertans are nervous about Chinese investment, et cetera,” he said.
“It’s not for me (to say) whether you’re positive or negative about China. We just want to unpack why you think these things in the survey, and to provoke a little more profound policy debate and understanding.”
Despite the efforts Houlden and his team put into the survey, he remains dubious as to whether the finished result will have any impact on Alberta.
“There’s been a lot of polling already — usually the small commercial ones. Political parties are polling. I wouldn’t be surprised if the federal and provincial parties are polling on this issue. It’s a popular theme,” he said.
“Theirs tend to be one question long, like, ‘Today do you favour the Nexen agreement?’ We try not to compete with them — we want to be an academic institution, a think tank that provokes some deeper thinking about China.”
Houlden said although most media coverage of the survey has focused on the negative reaction to Chinese investment, his personal disappointment lies in Albertans not understanding the importance of learning the Chinese language.
“That one bothered me because that means, in effect, that hundreds of millions of Chinese are learning English and Canadians are not learning Chinese,” he said.
“When you learn a person’s language, you learn a lot about them, about their culture … and I would argue, whether you like China or you don’t like China, learning about them is a good thing. This is short-sighted, to not value learning Chinese as an approach.”
Houlden said considering China’s economic strength, Canada needs to start learning how the country thinks, works and operates.
“We’re in this magnificent isolation. We’re in this vast continent — even the large concentrations of French-speaking people are 2,000 kilometres away,” he said.
“We need a cadre of leaders in business, government, society generally, who will be able to meet the Chinese on equal terms.”
The survey results can be accessed on the China Institute’s website at china.ualberta.ca.
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