by David Korzinski | October 12, 2017 7:30 pm
October 13, 2017 – Long removed from heady memories of buoyant voters, a bright change in tone, and easy wins with the public, Canadians are approaching the two-year anniversary of the 2015 election with a far less enthusiastic, even jaundiced eye on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government.
While they tilt slightly towards approval of Trudeau’s first two years in office – they are also marginally more inclined to say the Liberal government’s failures have outweighed its accomplishments.
The combination of perceived hits and misses on policy and direction from the Trudeau government is changing the dynamics of federal politics in this country.
Were an election held tomorrow – the Liberal Party would find itself in a dead heat with the Conservative Party – fighting to hold onto power.
Leadership was arguably the defining dimension of the 2015 election campaign. Long before the writ had been dropped, Canadians – especially those who were left-leaning, younger, and some who had never voted before – were already viscerally angry with then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Around that time, the words most chosen by Canadians to describe him included “secretive”, “arrogant” and “dishonest”.
In turn, the then-Conservative government focused its attention and attacks on Justin Trudeau, whom they cast as too inexperienced, too young (ironically, he is now the oldest among the main party leaders), and “Just not Ready”. The ads resonated with many, but may have backfired in the end. On October 19th, Trudeau’s Liberals captured 39.5 per cent of the popular vote and won a majority. Turns out Trudeau was readier than Conservative strategists thought.
The question two years later is whether Canadians were ready for the style of leadership and policy decisions Trudeau and his government made – or didn’t make. Asked now whether they view the Liberal leader and Prime Minister favourably or unfavourably, half of Canadians say the former:
Three main factors drive feelings about Trudeau: age, gender and region.
Women – particularly those under the age of 35 or over the age of 55 – are most likely to feel warmly about the PM. Overall, more than half of millennials view him favourably, but the same cannot be said about men over the age of 35:
Further, were it not for Trudeau hitting a wall of unfavourability in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, his overall favourability would be higher on average:
Favourability has a different flavour when it comes to the leaders of the main oppositions parties, the CPC’s Andrew Scheer – and the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh. Scheer was elected in an upset over frontrunner Maxime Bernier at the end of May. Singh’s landslide victory over three other contenders was just weeks ago.
Related: As Conservative leader, Scheer must balance core voters’ values with party’s need for growth
Related: Conflicted on Singh: Most could vote for a party led by a Sikh, but half say their friends, family wouldn’t
In other words, neither is well known, and it shows in terms of each one’s favourability with Canadians:
Again, several demographic factors drive opinions about both Scheer and Singh (see comprehensive tables for more details) – but for now – age stands out. Scheer’s highest level of favourability is among Canadians over the age of 55 (41%). Singh’s fan base is among millennials (44%).
And while leadership is a major driver of vote intention, it is not the only one – which is what leads to the current draw between the CPC and Liberals, if an election were held today:
The regions tell the story once more: the CPC commands strong support in Alberta and the prairie provinces. The Liberals garner flatter support across the country, but grow stronger in vote-rich Quebec and Ontario. The party’s strength in Quebec – relative to the 2015 popular vote – is also a result of the current sinking support for the NDP in that province. By contrast, lower support relative to the party’s 2015 popular vote in B.C. will be of concern.
While the CPC’s strong advantage in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba helps drive the party to a national tie with the Liberals in voting intention, it could also be construed as a weakness: The party’s support is so concentrated in these regions that it could end up over-performing in the popular vote and under-performing in terms of seat count.
If there is an advantage for the Conservatives, it is in retention of the party’s vote base: 90 per cent of 2015 CPC voters say they would vote for the party again if an election were held today. By contrast, the Liberal Party holds onto 71 per cent of its past voters, and New Democrats keep 68 per cent of theirs (see summary table in the .pdf of this report).
Campaigns are full of promises. Governance, however, can be a much murkier road to travel than the ones trodden by the campaign caravans, full of supporters and goodwill. Two years into a four-year term, the Liberal government has its fair share of hits and misses. Some promises have been delivered, some commenced, and some abandoned. Here’s a look at which decisions resonated most – or least – with Canadians.
Trudeau announced the first gender-balanced cabinet in Canadians history. Asked why he decided upon parity, Trudeau famously stated, “because it’s 2015”. The decision is the most popular of those canvassed by the Angus Reid Institute for this report, seven-in-ten Canadians approve of it, and fewer than one-in-five disapprove:
In addition to creating a gender balance in cabinet, the government introduced Bill C-16, to add the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the list of grounds protected from discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act, and the majority approve of this move.
Tax changes have been front and centre in the first half of the Liberals’ term, lowering the tax rate on middle income earners, from 22.5 to 20.5 per cent, and creating a new tax bracket for income earners over $200,000 per year, set at 33 per cent. Both of these policies receive high marks from Canadians, with at least seven-in-ten supporting each:
More recently, the government has undertaken consultations for proposed small business tax changes. And while more support these changes – to passive investment and the practice of ‘income sprinkling’ – than oppose them, other data in this survey makes it difficult to call the proposals a “hit.” Further discussion of these two tax changes can be found in the “splits” section.
The Angus Reid Institute has tracked growing support for marijuana legalization for a number of years. Six-in-ten supported legalization in the summer of 2014, suggesting headway could be made by supporting such a policy. Trudeau’s Liberals did just that. Now, less than one year away from recreational legalization, half of Canadians (50%) say they approve of the Liberal plan. Younger Canadians show significantly higher levels of support than their older compatriots.
Support for the plan is significantly lower than the 68 per cent of Canadians who said marijuana should be legalized last year – perhaps reflecting differing views about recreational use or the method of sale chosen by particular provinces.
Related: Canadians disjointed on pot plan: Most support the bill, but think it will fail in its key goals
One of the more regionally divisive policies put forth by the federal government is its call for every province to introduce a price on carbon emissions. Several provinces have already implemented their own emissions-reduction plans – either through a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system – in order to meet targets set by the ratification of the Paris accord.
While a majority approve of the government’s policy, pushback has been strong too. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall threatened to take the government to court to fight any carbon pricing imposition. His province is most opposed to the program, while B.C. and Quebec voice the most approval.
Less divisive is the Trudeau government’s approval of the TransMountain pipeline project between B.C. and Alberta. TransMountain’s approval is met with support from just over half of Canadians (52%), while one-in-four (27%) disapprove of the decision. But in each region across the country, more residents approve than disapprove of the decision.
One of the biggest perceived strengths of the Trudeau government is the face it presents to the world. More than half of all Canadians (54%) say the government has had a positive impact on Canada’s global reputation – a finding likely correlated with the many positive profiles of the country and of Trudeau himself in American media over the last two years.
Though it has been a source of massive opposition and concern among Canadian entrepreneurs, more Canadians overall support than oppose each of the government’s proposed changes to small business taxation, with a noticeably higher number expressing uncertainty than did so on personal income tax changes, as seen in the graph that follows.
Related: Canadian entrepreneurs see changes to passive investment rules as ‘unfair’ by 2:1 margin
But when asked about the Trudeau government’s overall impact on the Canadian tax system, fully four-in-ten (41%) say it has been negative – more than say this about any other item canvassed in this survey. Fewer than one-in-six (15%) say the Trudeau government’s effect on the Canadian tax system has been positive:
Notably, despite it being a centrepiece of the Liberals’ 2015 campaign messaging, “the middle class” is also an area where Canadians are more likely to perceive a negative impact from the Trudeau government than a positive one. Some one-in-five (20%) say the government has had a positive effect on this file over its first two years, compared to two-thirds who think its impact has been either neutral (35%) or negative (33%).
After failing to come to an agreement with the provinces over a long-term funding package for health care, the government stated that it would limit annual increases in health care transfers to three per cent. This represents an amount roughly half of what it has been since 2004. Provincial leaders were reportedly frustrated with what they saw as a lack of compromise from the government. For their part, Canadians are largely uncertain on this issue. An equal number both approve and disapprove of the governments approach:
Campaigning is one thing, governing is another. This is perhaps best characterized in the Liberal government’s choice to ultimately not pursue electoral reform, after Justin Trudeau famously stated that the 2015 election would be the last under the first-past-the-post voting system. Though a committee was established to study the issue, ultimately, the government claimed that a lack of consensus among Canadians was cause to abandon reform. Canadians overwhelmingly say that the government made the wrong decision in this case.
As events concerning asylum seekers crossing from the U.S., refugee resettlement and immigration have dominated the news over the last two years, the Trudeau government has chosen to raise immigration levels to 300,000 entries per year, within which 40,000 refugees will also be accepted.
While four-in-ten Canadians (39%) support such a target, (including half of B.C. residents), half of Canadians disapprove (51%). The largest group of Canadians, 32 per cent, say they strongly disapprove.
Prime Minister Trudeau ran on a campaign promise to run “modest deficits” of roughly $10 billion for the first three years of his government, while balancing the budget in 2019-20. Each of the first two years of the Liberal term saw projected deficits of close to $30 billion.
In the end, the 2016-17 budget deficit came in at a more modest $17.8 billion and some economists expect a similar number for 2017-18. That said, these figures are still at odds with a promise of $10 billion, and seven-in-ten Canadians say that running deficits of this size is the wrong thing to do:
In July, the government paid former child soldier and Guantanamo Bay prisoner Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen, $10.5 million to settle a lawsuit he brought against it. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2010 that the government had violated Khadr’s rights as a Canadian citizen.
Though most experts agreed that the government made the safe play – settling a case that they would undoubtedly have lost down the road – at the time, 71 per cent of Canadians said they disagreed with the decision. Three months later, the number of Canadians saying they disapprove of the settlement stands at nearly six-in-ten:
Canadians were asked whether the impact of the Trudeau government has been positive, negative, or neutral on a list of 15 issues. While some have been canvassed earlier in this report, full results may be seen in the table that follows:
Notably, some areas where the Trudeau government’s actions have been strongly criticized are not necessarily viewed as negatively by Canadians. For example, while much has been written about the troubles facing the national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, twice as many say the Trudeau government has had a positive impact on Indigenous affairs (38%) as say it has had a negative one (18%).
At the end of October 2015, the Angus Reid Institute asked Canadians what impact they expected the new government to have on 12 of the 15 areas canvassed in this survey. Expectations were sky-high then, and on every item except international reputation, the number saying the Trudeau government has had a positive impact in its first two years has fallen considerably compared to the number who expected such an impact:
Roughly half of all Canadians (48%) say they approve of the Trudeau Liberals’ performance in their first two years in government, and almost as many (45%) say they disapprove.
Younger respondents, who have been Trudeau’s most faithful base of support since he took office, are 20 percentage points more likely to approve than to disapprove, while Canadians ages 35 and older are more likely to disapprove of the Trudeau government’s performance than to approve of it:
There are also significant regional differences on this question, with Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba – though especially the first two – more disapproving and every other region more inclined to approve than disapprove:
For all these relatively positive indicators of how the government’s performance is perceived, however, there are also negative ones.
Asked to weigh the Liberals’ accomplishments against their failures in government so far, more Canadians say their failures have outweighed their accomplishments than say the reverse, with a substantial portion of the population unsure:
In a similar vein, relatively few Canadians see the Trudeau government – or Trudeau himself – as exceeding their expectations so far. More than one-in-four respondents (27% in each case) say both Trudeau as PM and the Liberals have been worse than they expected since taking office, while only one-in-ten (11%) say the government has performed above expectations, overall:
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.
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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