Politicians score mixed reviews on their pandemic performances

Support for the actions of the federal government is high, jumping two points to 68% since March | Shutterstock

As Canadians continue to wonder when social distancing guidelines will be loosened, the level of satisfaction with the way various levels of government have dealt with the COVID-19 outbreak remains high.

However, not all provincial leaders are faring equally, and there is little appetite among Canadians to have a different person in charge of the federal response to the crisis. 

Research Co. and Glacier Media began tracking these views last month. In early April, the positive perception among Canadians of their municipal governments increased by five points to 69%. We have seen some cities tightening existing regulations and making changes to things they can control, such as parking enforcement.

The level of support for the actions of the federal government is also high, jumping two points to 68% since March. In two regions – Atlantic Canada and Ontario – more than seven in 10 residents are satisfied with Ottawa’s handling of COVID-19 (78% and 71%, respectively). Majorities of those living in British Columbia (68%), Quebec (67%), Saskatchewan and Manitoba (also 67%) and Alberta (56%) concur.

Back in October, the federal Conservative Party received more votes but won fewer seats than the Liberal Party, leading to a minority government headed by Justin Trudeau. When Canadians are asked if any one of four Conservative politicians would be doing a better job handling this crisis, yearning for change is muted.

A third of Canadians (34%) think former prime minister Stephen Harper would be doing a better job than Trudeau in charge of the COVID-19 file, but one half (50%) disagree. Harper’s numbers on this question are high in Alberta (58%) but drop elsewhere.

Only 25% of Canadians are convinced that current opposition leader Andrew Scheer would be doing a better job than Trudeau on COVID-19. The numbers are even lower for two candidates seeking to supplant Scheer: Peter MacKay (23%) and Erin O’Toole (17%).

MacKay and O’Toole face an added difficulty. While most people who voted for the Conservatives in 2019 believe Harper (68%) and Scheer (51%) are better suited for this crisis than Trudeau, the proportion drops to 42% for MacKay – a man who has held four federal cabinet positions – and to 28% for O’Toole.

Compared with March, the level of satisfaction with the actions of provincial governments on COVID-19 improved by seven points to 77%. The way in which Canadians are looking at their premiers, ministers and health authorities is not uniform, especially in the four most populous provinces.

In Quebec, the provincial government improved four points to 88%. Ontario is the biggest gainer, adding 12 points and reaching 78%. British Columbia is slightly up to 72%. Alberta is the only major province with a negative drift, falling eight points to 57%, by far the lowest satisfaction in the country.

Alberta’s weakness becomes more obvious when Canadians are asked if their previous provincial administration would be doing a better job handling this crisis. We must remember that in these four provinces, the current heads of government are all first termers, taking office in 2017 (British Columbia), 2018 (Ontario and Quebec) and 2019 (Alberta).

Voter’s remorse is not a significant issue in British Columbia and Ontario, where just over a third of residents (35% and 36%, respectively) believe Christy Clark and Kathleen Wynne would be doing a better job than John Horgan and Doug Ford.

In Quebec, in spite of the high approval for François Legault and his administration, residents are practically split: 42% stand by the current government while 38% think this crisis would be better handled by former premier Philippe Couillard – a medical doctor.

In Alberta, the numbers are bleak for Jason Kenney. A majority of residents (54%) think former premier Rachel Notley would do a better job handling COVID-19, while 29% prefer the current premier – a 25-point difference.

Two governments with vastly different ideologies – in British Columbia and Ontario – have managed to keep the public happy. There is little longing for premiers Horgan and Ford to be supplanted. Quebecers give Legault’s team the highest approval in the country, but voters are still uttering a “what if” when thinking about Couillard.

Albertans are not particularly thrilled with Kenney, and not all of it is a side-effect of COVID-19. We found in late December 2019 that 56% Albertans thought things would be better with a different premier. At the time, animosity towards Ford in Ontario was higher (60%). A few months later, one is extending beyond the base while the other one’s imploding. The differences between Ontario and Alberta point to a problem that is not rooted in ideology, but in delivery.

At this point, approval of the actions related to COVID-19 taken by Ottawa in Alberta, where the federal Liberals received just 14% of the ballots cast in the last federal election, is practically the same as satisfaction with a provincial government that garnered 55% of the provincial vote in the same calendar year. And while Horgan, Ford and Legault do not need to worry about three retired premiers, Kenney will still face Notley in the legislature. •

Mario Canseco is the president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from April 6 to April 8 among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error – which measures sample variability – is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.