Premiers’ Performance: Houston soars in approval, while Ford makes gains months before Ontario election

Premiers’ Performance: Houston soars in approval, while Ford makes gains months before Ontario election

Legault’s approval declines to new low in his time as premier

March 18, 2022 – As the prospect of warmer spring weather begins to lift Canadian spirits, most appear to already be warming to their premiers.

New data from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute finds higher approval numbers for most of the country’s premiers, including Ontario’s Doug Ford, who – less than three months before an expected provincial election – rises 13 points. Nova Scotia’s Tim Houston also springs well forward, up 16 points.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe (+6), Alberta’s Jason Kenney (+4) and Manitoba’s Heather Stefanson (+4) also see slight boosts, while in British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and New Brunswick, the approval of Premiers John Horgan (+1), Andrew Fury (-1) and Blaine Higgs (+2) remains stable. Quebec’s François Legault experiences a slight decline in approval (-3).

Houston’s climb to the top spot in approval comes as his province is set to remove all COVID-19 restrictions after being a bright spot in handling of the virus over the last two years. As well, he recently voiced frustrations over the Mass Casualty Inquiry – a commission exploring the events of April 18-19, 2020 when 22 people were shot by a gunman who was then killed by RCMP – echoed by loved ones of victims who lost their lives that day. Three-quarters (73%) of Nova Scotians approve of the job Houston’s done as premier, one-in-five (21%) disagree.

At the other end of the spectrum sits Stefanson, who despite an improvement over the last months, remains the country’s least approved-of premier. One-quarter (25%) in Manitoba approve of her; two-thirds (64%) beg to differ. As that province, too, removes COVID-19 restrictions, Stefanson continues to face criticism over the government’s handling of the pandemic, including a deadly third wave which overwhelmed intensive care units when she was health minister. Notably, Manitobans were least likely to give their premier a passing grade in handling the pandemic over the last two years.

About ARI

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.

Note: Because its small population precludes drawing discrete samples over multiple waves, data on Prince Edward Island is not released.

The top two

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston soars into the top spot as the country’s most approved premier seven months after he led the Progressive Conservatives to a surprise majority government in that province’s summer election. Almost three-quarters (73%) of Nova Scotians approve of the job Houston has been doing, a level of approval that comes as that province moves into a new phase of “living” with COVID-19, lifting all restrictions by March 21. Now, it will only update COVID-19 statistics weekly instead of daily.

The high approval also comes in the wake of Houston wading into the public inquiry into the April 2020 mass shooting, when a gunman killed 22 people over two days in Nova Scotia. In February, he criticized the Mass Casualty Commission as the inquiry began for causing “further, unnecessary trauma” by leaving victims with unanswered questions, including who would be subpoenaed to testify. Houston wasn’t the only voice criticizing the inquiry.

In a distant second place, B.C. Premier John Horgan maintains an approval rating consistent with what it’s been for half a year. More than half (55%) of British Columbians approve of Horgan, while two-in-five (41%) disapprove. His province, too, has set the schedule to remove restrictions, albeit at a slower pace than Nova Scotia – B.C.’s vaccine passport will be in effect until at least April 8. Three-in-five British Columbians said he charted a good path through the pandemic over the last two years.

Still, Horgan doesn’t always appear to strike the right tone. He was reminded last month of his promise to deal with high gas prices four years ago during the NDP’s first term in government. An inquiry found an unexplained difference in prices between southern B.C. and the U.S. Pacific Northwest, but the government has done little besides trying to increase transparency as prices climb. Earlier this month, Horgan defended taxes on gasoline, which he said build roads, fund public transportation and modernize infrastructure. He also pointed out how fragile that infrastructure is, referencing last year’s atmospheric river which caused catastrophic flooding across the province.

The 50/50s

Quebec Premier François Legault is approved of by 52 per cent of Quebecers, a slight decline since the depths of winter and a new low for him since he became premier in October 2018. Inflation, which has become a hot-button topic in the province, may have had an impact. Opposition parties have called on Legault’s Coalition Avenir Quebec government to suspend or remove the provincial sales taxes on essential items including gasoline, a measure Alberta took earlier this month. Legault responded by refusing to suspend the gas tax, but did say his upcoming budget would “put money back in the pockets of Quebecers.” Quebec is scheduled to hold an election this fall.

The people of Saskatchewan suffered last fall through one of the worst fourth waves of COVID-19 in the country. It was also a time when Premier Scott Moe’s approval fell nearly 20 points to 43 per cent. Now half (51%) of Saskatchewan residents say they approve of Moe, as many (48%) who say the opposite.

Moe celebrated a win last month: NDP and opposition leader Ryan Meili resigned after his party lost a long-held riding in a byelection to a member of the Moe-led Saskatchewan Party. Moe attributed the victory to his government’s pandemic policy. Meanwhile, more Saskatchewanians give Moe a thumbs down than a thumbs up for his handling of the pandemic over the last two years.

Notably, these data were mostly collected before it was reported that a pickup truck registered to Moe was impounded and its 28-year-old driver arrested in Vancouver. The driver, who had a Saskatchewan driver’s licence and is “friend or family” to Moe, failed a roadside sobriety test. It’s unclear whether this will have an impact on Moe’s approval in future months. In 1994, Moe himself was charged with impaired driving.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey also finds himself with a split provincial constituency: half say they approve of him, 47 per cent say they don’t. That province is also struggling with inflation as gas prices hit $2 per litre. Furey has refused to lower the gas tax, but said his government planned to address the rising cost of living in the April budget. The unemployment rate in Newfoundland and Labrador remains the highest in the country – 12.3 per cent – as Furey fights for a $6.8-billion offshore drilling project he says is vital to the province’s economy.

Those below .500

In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford reverses a two-year long trend of declining approval, bouncing back to 43 per cent, the highest rate he’s seen since 2020. Still, more than half of Ontarians disapprove of Ford (55%), including more than one-third (36%) who strongly disapprove of the job he’s doing as premier. Ford’s approval bump comes as the province is set to end the mask mandate in most situations on March 21, three weeks after removing its vaccine passport system. More Ontarians believe Ford has handled the pandemic poorly overall over the last two years than done well.

Ford’s handling of last month’s Ottawa occupation was also widely criticized for “passing the buck” to the federal government. More Ontarians believed he worsened the situation than helped it reach a solution.

For three straight quarters, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs’ approval has been below 40 per cent. One-third (36%) of New Brunswickers say they approve of the job he’s doing, while a majority – 62 per cent – disapprove. Higgs has become embroiled in a battle over carbon taxes as the cost for everything rises with inflation. He has refused calls to drop the provincial program and replace it with the federal one, which includes quarterly rebates for consumers. Removing the provincial program would mean New Brunswick would forego the revenue from the carbon tax, which the province uses to fund climate change programs, an income tax cut and a four-cent reduction to the province’s own gas tax.

Alberta, where approval of Premier Jason Kenney has nosed slightly upward to three-in-ten, is also wrestling with the carbon tax. The province is instituting a temporary “fuel tax holiday” to fight high prices for gasoline; Kenney said the holiday is a “back-door” way to fulfill his government’s promise to “scrap the carbon tax.” Still, two-thirds (68%) of Albertans are unhappy with his performance as premier as a leadership review looms on April 9.

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson faces similar levels of disapproval – two-thirds (64%). One-quarter (25%) approve, the lowest approval among premiers in the country. The PC government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to dog Stefanson, who was health minister when the third wave overwhelmed Manitoba’s intensive care units. She’s continued in a tradition of Manitoban officials deflecting blame by using the phrase “coulda, woulda, shoulda” – dismissing criticism as 20/20 hindsight. Manitoba’s pandemic premier tandem of Stefanson and her predecessor Brian Pallister received a passing grade on their handling of COVID-19 from one-in-five (20%) of Manitobans, the fewest constituents of any provincial leader.

Survey Methodology:

The Angus Reid Institute conducted an online survey from March 10-15, 2022 among a representative randomized sample of 5,105 Canadian adults who are members of Angus Reid Forum. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding. The survey was self-commissioned and paid for by ARI.

For detailed results by age, gender, region, education, and other demographics, click here.

To read the full report, including detailed tables and methodology, click here

Image – Cole Burston/National Observer


Shachi Kurl, President: 604.908.1693 @shachikurl

Dave Korzinski, Research Director: 250.899.0821


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