by Angus Reid | February 28, 2019 10:00 pm
February 26, 2019 – As political watchers across the country await with bated breath testimony from former Attorney General and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, the latest public opinion poll from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute shows the SNC-Lavalin affair taking a toll on the fortunes of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government.
While it remains unclear exactly how much – if any – pressure Trudeau and his staff put on Wilson-Raybould not to prosecute the Quebec-based engineering firm for fraud and corruption charges stemming from its business in Libya, most Canadians (66%) say they believe there is a deeper scandal in the Prime Minister’s Office. Moreover, a similar number (63%) say they believe SNC-Lavalin should be fully prosecuted under the criminal code, rather than allowed to negotiate a remediation agreement, as the PMO reportedly would have preferred.
These findings correspond with low marks for Trudeau himself. Fully six-in-ten Canadians (60%) say they have an unfavourable view of the Prime Minister, and a nearly identical 59 per cent say their opinion of him has worsened over the last month or so. While this is driven largely by the negative views of right-of-centre voters, it’s notable that three-in-ten (28%) who would vote for Trudeau’s Liberal Party in an election held tomorrow also say their view of the PM has worsened.
All of this creates a political landscape in which Trudeau’s Liberals would find themselves trailing Andrew Scheer’s Conservative Party of Canada by seven percentage points (38% to 31%) in the event an election were held tomorrow.
The Angus Reid Institute (ARI) was founded in October 2014 by pollster and sociologist, Dr. Angus Reid. ARI is a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research foundation established to advance education by commissioning, conducting and disseminating to the public accessible and impartial statistical data, research and policy analysis on economics, political science, philanthropy, public administration, domestic and international affairs and other socio-economic issues of importance to Canada and its world.
The controversy currently engulfing Ottawa began with the apparent demotion of Wilson-Raybould from Attorney General and Minister of Justice to Minister for Veterans Affairs in January. After the cabinet shuffle, the Globe and Mail reported that Primer Minister Justin Trudeau’s office put “heavy pressure” on Wilson-Raybould to reconsider the decision to prosecute SNC-Lavalin. Trudeau has denied that either he or anyone in his office directed Wilson-Raybould to change her decision.
Since this initial reporting, the story has spiraled into Parliamentary investigations and calls for Wilson-Raybould and the Prime Minister himself to testify before the justice committee of the House of Commons, dominating the political news cycle for the better part of the last three weeks.
But how much is this issue resonating with the Canadian public? According to the Angus Reid Institute’s Engagement Index, which measures the relative attention Canadians are paying to the topics of ARI polls, this story is generating a level of engagement well above average. The SNC-Lavalin affair scores a 67 on the index, which is substantially higher than the average score of 50 (for greater detail on the ARI Engagement Index, see notes on methodology at the end of this release).
Perhaps reflecting their relatively high level of awareness of this issue, Canadians are generally of the opinion that the near-wall-to-wall media coverage is justified. While one-in-three (34%) take the view that this issue has been “overblown” by politicians and the media, twice that many (66%) say there is a deeper scandal to be uncovered. This view is especially strong in provinces west of Ontario, though majorities in all regions feel this way:
Views on this question vary only slightly by age, with younger respondents (those ages 18-34) more likely to say the issue has been overblown and is settled by the recent resignation of Trudeau’s Principal Secretary Gerald Butts, while three-quarters (74%) of those in the 55-plus age group take the opposing view.
More tellingly, an overwhelming majority (95%) of those who intend to vote for the CPC say they believe there is a deeper scandal that will emerge, while most would-be Liberals (72%) say the opposite. Those who would cast ballots for the NDP are more evenly split, though a majority lean toward the perspective that more information is likely to emerge:
One of the underlying questions in this scandal is whether Canada would be better served, as a country, by prosecuting SNC-Lavalin for its alleged corruption, or by allowing it to enter a remediation agreement in which it would admit wrongdoing, pay a substantial fine, and pay back any gains it got from its corrupt behaviour.
Prosecuting the company – as the crown is currently set to do – could result in more severe punishment for those who broke the law, including potentially a 10-year ban on SNC-Lavalin receiving contracts from the federal government. This could entail significant damage to the company’s bottom line and therefore significant job losses at one of Canada’s largest employers.
The appeal of a remediation agreement, for those who support it, is the potential to avoid such negative consequences for the broader economy by allowing the company to continue to accept government contracts, pay its fines over a period of multiple years, and potentially avoid massive layoffs.
Asked which approach they would prefer, most Canadians opt for full prosecution, with those in Western Canada especially inclined to feel this way. Residents of SNC’s home province of Quebec, meanwhile, are divided, with half (51%) preferring a remediation agreement.
Again, political preference is a major driver of opinion in this issue. Those who would vote for opposition parties if an election were held tomorrow tend to prefer prosecution – overwhelmingly so in the case of CPC supporters – while those who would vote for the governing Liberals favour a remediation agreement:
The SNC-Lavalin matter still leaves many questions unanswered, and the fallout from the controversy may not be fully known for months. That said, there are indications that the Prime Minister is facing a political backlash over his alleged role in the affair. Six-in-ten Canadians now say they have an unfavourable view of Trudeau, with four-in-ten saying they view the Prime Minister favourably. This puts him slightly behind Opposition leader Andrew Scheer, who holds the favour of 46 per cent of Canadians.
Looking at these data as a net favourability rating – that is, the percentage of those saying favourable minus those saying unfavourable – the picture is not particularly rosy for any federal leader. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh fares worst, with a minus-28 rating overall:
Over the past few weeks, Canadians have watched Andrew Scheer criticize Trudeau and his government for its handling of the SNC affair. Scheer called the issue a “textbook case of government corruption.” This, however, has not generated much in the way of positive movement for the Conservative leader, though the Trudeau brand has certainly taken a hit.
One-in-five Canadians (20%) say their opinion of Scheer has improved in the past month, compared to slightly more who say their opinion of him has worsened (25%). For Trudeau, the trend is overwhelmingly negative, with six-in-ten (59%) saying their view of him has diminished:
Trudeau’s negative momentum over the past month is largely a product of opinions from Canadians outside of his base, but it is worth noting that even three-in-ten (28%) of those who say they would vote for his party in an election held tomorrow have soured on him in recent weeks:
Perhaps driven by the worsening public opinion of the Prime Minister, the nationwide vote intention picture now favours the Conservative Party.
Asked who they would support if an election were held tomorrow, 38 per cent of decided and leaning Canadian voters opt for the Conservative candidate in their riding. Support for the Liberal Party sits at 31 per cent, while the NDP projects at 14 per cent nationally:
The Liberal Party has fallen out of favour in several regions that were important to garnering its majority in 2015. The Conservative Party holds a small advantage in B.C. and Ontario, provinces the Liberals won by five and nine percentage points, respectively, in 2015.
Meanwhile, in Quebec, the home of Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin, residents are divided evenly between the CPC and Liberals, each of which is statistically tied with the Bloc Quebecois:
*Small Sample Size
Looking at vote intention by age and gender reveals some stark divides. While women prefer the Liberal Party to the Conservatives by roughly six percentage points, men overwhelmingly prefer the Conservatives. This trend is driven especially by men over age 35 (see comprehensive tables for greater detail).
Older respondents, regardless of gender, are much more likely than other age groups to say they would vote for the CPC in an election held tomorrow, while the Liberal Party leads among those under age 35:
Combining these two variables – age and gender – displays the strengths and weaknesses of each party. The Liberals hold an advantage among women under 55 compared to their Conservative counterparts, whereas the CPC dominates vote intention among men over the age of 35:
Notes on Methodology:
Since early 2015, the Angus Reid Institute has been asking Canadians a standardized question about how closely they are following the topics of ARI polls. To facilitate easy comparisons across disparate topics, ARI researchers have developed an Engagement Index based on respondents’ answers.
For each issue, respondents are asked to say whether they are “following it in the news and discussing it with friends and family,” “seeing some media coverage and having the odd conversation,” “just scanning the headlines,” or not seeing or hearing anything about the issue.
The index is based on the average response to this question over the years, with greater weight given to the highest level of engagement on the scale, and lesser weight given to the “having the odd conversation” and “just scanning headlines” responses. An “average” issue scores a 50 on the index, with scores higher than 50 representing above-average engagement and scores lower than 50 representing below-average engagement.
On this particular topic of the SNC-Lavalin affair, more than four-in-ten (44%) say they are “following it in the news and discussing it with friends and family.” Another 25 per cent are “seeing some media coverage and having the odd conversation.” One-in-five (21%) are “just scanning the headlines,” and the rest (11%) haven’t seen or heard anything about this story. Responses on this topic equate to a score of 67 on the ARI Engagement Index, which is the second-highest score recorded in 2019 so far, behind only the 73 recorded in ARI’s report on the opioid epidemic.
For detailed results by age, gender, region, education, and other demographics, click here.
Click here for the full report including tables and methodology
Click here for the questionnaire used in this survey
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