Stephen Harper Remains a Polarizing Figure for Canadians

Seven years after the fall of Paul Martin’s minority government, Canadians hold differing views on Stephen Harper, a new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll has found.

In the online survey of a representative sample of 1,508 Canadians, half of respondents (49%) say Prime Minister Harper has performed “about the same” as they expected, while one third (32%) think he has done worse, and 13 per cent believe he has been better.

One-in-five Albertans (20%) and almost three-in-ten Conservative voters in 2011 (28%) think Harper has performed better than they expected, while almost half of Quebecers (46%) and a majority of New Democratic Party (NDP) voters in 2011 (52%) feel he has been worse.

The Issues

About one-in-five Canadians believe Canada’s reputation in the world (21%), economy (19%) and role in global affairs (18%) are all better now than they were seven years ago, before the Conservatives won the 2006 federal election.

The biggest criticism towards the Harper years comes on five issues. Almost half of respondents think taxation (46%) and health care (also 46%) have worsened in the past seven years, and two-in-five feel the same way about ethics and accountability (43%) and the economy (also 43%).

“Hidden Agenda”

When asked whether they believe Stephen Harper harbors a “hidden agenda”, two thirds of Canadians (68%) think that he “definitely” or “probably” does. The proportion of Canadians who feel the same way about their Premier is very similar (67%, boosted by a high of 78% in Quebec), while half (50%) think their Mayor, Reeve or Warden has a “hidden agenda.”

Less than half of Conservative Party voters in 2011 (43%) think Harper has a “hidden agenda”—a view shared by more than three quarters of those who voted for the four main opposition parties last year.

Despite the seemingly high findings on the “hidden agenda” question, Canadians do not foresee a dramatic change in specific legislation now that the Conservative Party has a majority in the House of Commons. Few Canadians foresee a repeal of the law that allows same-sex couples to marry (29%), the recriminalization of abortion (24%) or the reinstatement of the death penalty (19%).

However, two thirds of Canadians (68%) do expect funding for programs related to the arts and film to be reduced, and for the role of private health care providers to be expanded (66%). Implementing a process to allow Canadians to elect their senators—a topic that has been discussed by the Conservatives in several electoral campaigns—is actually expected by only 31 per cent of respondents.

Views on Harper

In all, 28 per cent of Canadians say they liked Stephen Harper when he was in opposition and like him as Prime Minister—a proportion that jumps to 45 per cent in Alberta, 34 per cent for respondents aged 55 and over, and 68 per cent of Tory voters.

Seven per cent of Canadians say they disliked Harper when he was in opposition, but like him as Prime Minister, while one-in-ten respondents (11%) liked Harper in opposition, but dislike him as a Prime Minister.

More than a third of Canadians (37%) say they disliked Stephen Harper when he was in opposition, and dislike him as Prime Minister—including 44 per cent of Quebecers and Atlantic Canadians, 40 per cent of British Columbians, 39 per cent of respondents aged 18-to-34, and 59 per cent of both NDP and Liberal voters in 2011.


After almost seven years at 24 Sussex, Stephen Harper maintains good rapport with his base. Three-in-five Conservative voters think he has performed as expected, and three-in-ten believe he has been better than they first thought.

While two thirds of Canadians see Harper harbouring a “hidden agenda”, this feeling is not related to specific issues that may be radically altered, such as abortion, same-sex marriage or the death penalty. If anything, Canadians are more critical of the government’s performance on health care, and more concerned about the possible effect of an expansion in private delivery.

Full Report, Detailed Tables and Methodology (PDF)

Methodology: From November 28 to November 29, 2012, Angus Reid Public Opinion conducted an online survey among 1,508 randomly selected Canadian adults who are Angus Reid Forum panellists. The margin of error—which measures sampling variability—is +/- 2.5%, 19 times out of 20. The results have been statistically weighted according to the most current education, age, gender and region Census data to ensure a sample representative of the entire adult population of Canada. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding.

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