Canadians stay cautious about easing COVID-19 restrictions: poll


No elected official has dared to point to the calendar to establish a date for the full return of normal activity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week, we learned that only 23% of Canadians expect things to be “as they were” by the end of October. This is very different from the initial expectation of a crisis that would last weeks instead of months.

Canadians may have assumed a state of idleness, but there is pressure to change from those who have been directly affected by the pandemic. By a two-to-one margin, Canadians are siding with caution. Almost two-thirds of Canadians recently interviewed by Research Co. and Glacier Media (64%) would prefer to return to economic activity slowly and ensure that COVID-19 infection rates remain low. Only 29% opt to reopen quickly and minimize job losses.

The desire for a paced return is highest among women (70%), Canadians aged 55 and over (73%) and Quebecers (71%). There is some yearning for speed among men and Canadians aged 35 to 54, although not near majority support in either group.

Canadians have grown more impatient with the perceived lack of accountability from a particular foreign entity. More than seven in 10 (72%, up six points since March) think the government of the People’s Republic of China should take responsibility for its role in the COVID-19 outbreak. In spite of this pent-up anger, only 31% of Canadians believe the government of Canada should consider launching legal action against Beijing, while practically half (49%) disagree with this idea.

Canadians, as was the case in March, differentiate between administrations and persons. The proportion of respondents who believe it is unacceptable to refer to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” or “Chinese flu” rose from 61% in March to 75% in May.

There is also a jump on whether Canadians are ready to embrace new eating habits. More than three in 10 (31%, up 10 points since April) agree that more people will consider adopting vegetarian or vegan diets after the COVID-19 outbreak ends – including 43% of those aged 18 to 34.

One finding has remained stable three months in a row. Across the country, 69% of Canadians are satisfied with the way the federal government has dealt with the COVID-19 outbreak, consistent with the 68% observed by Research Co. and Glacier Media in April.

The approval rating for Ottawa’s actions climbs to 76% among Canadians aged 55 and over, and includes majorities of those who voted for the three main federal parties in last year’s election: 86% among Liberal party voters, 72% among New Democrats and 54% among Conservatives.

Two other levels of government are not as fortunate. Last month, 69% of Canadians were satisfied with the actions of their municipal government in dealing with the outbreak. This month, the proportion has dropped to 64%, with Canadians aged 55 and over (71%), Atlantic Canadians (70%) and Quebecers (68%) voicing more contentment.

Across the country, satisfaction with provincial administrations stands at 64% this month. If this was the only data point available, we could easily assume that these governments are doing a phenomenal job. The tracking data, however, outlines some setbacks.

In Quebec, satisfaction with the provincial administration dropped by 22 points to 66%, after days of discussions about which businesses to open and as the extent of the pandemic in long-term care homes became clearer. Ontario was also not immune, with its rating falling 15 points since April (to 63% in May).

In Western Canada, there is more stability. Satisfaction with the provincial government in British Columbia went from 72% in April to 69% in May. In Alberta the numbers barely moved (from 57% to 56%). As was the case last month, Alberta’s provincial administration is the lowest rated among the four most populous provinces.

At this stage, most Canadians are being guided by restraint instead of desperation. The impetus on economic recovery is currently tempered by concerns about rising infection rates, particularly in Quebec – the first province to implement a plan to bring back some business activity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several weeks of confinement have not affected the standing of the federal government, but they have brought a level of scrutiny about the actions of municipal and provincial governments that was not present a few weeks ago. The rollout of provincewide regulations will help determine whether these administrations can climb back to the high levels of satisfaction they enjoyed during the near-total lockdown.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co. •

Results are based on an online study conducted from May 11 to May 13, 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.