Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, British Columbians experienced a unique Mother’s Day, where online tools allowed for “virtual hugs.”
Some were able to visit and stay within two metres of their loved ones. Others took advantage of the warm weather to go outside.
Those of us who are fortunate enough to ask questions to representative samples can notice specific trends. The pandemic has made it absolutely necessary to gauge feelings and perceptions constantly. Asking people to rate a government plan immediately after it has been tabled does not provide true discernment, regardless of the appetite of the public and the media for “some” kind of information.
In British Columbia, human nature kicked in and the announcement of a plan to ease restrictions was interpreted as a tacit permission to partake in the activities we miss. Residents turned to social media to document examples of physical distance not being respected. We also observed some “protesters” marching in Vancouver, including one carrying a placard that claimed her sons were not “lab rats.” As always, a crisis is a window into humanity’s most laudable and most deplorable.
Over the weekend, British Columbians actually had a chance to analyze what the provincial government is proposing. The latest survey by Research Co. and Glacier Media found that 72% of the province’s residents approve of the plan to resume economic activity, while 20% disagree and 8% are undecided.
In spite of a weekend filled with what some would describe as “lockdown violations,” a majority of British Columbians are gearing for a longer time without specific elements of their pre-pandemic daily lives. More than three in five (62%) believe we should reopen the economy slowly and ensure that COVID-19 infection rates remain low. Conversely, more than a third of residents (35%) believe we should reopen the economy quickly and ensure that no more jobs are lost due to COVID-19.
Our data analysis shows that British Columbians are not looking at this issue in a uniform way. Women are decidedly more likely to call for a slow reopening of the economy (76%) than men (48%). Residents aged 55 and over also urge a gradual return (83%), along with a majority of those aged 18 to 34 (64%).
Generation X is not particularly in favour of this option, with only 44% of British Columbians aged 35 to 54 favouring a slow reappearance to economic activity, and a majority (53%) wanting to achieve this rapidly.
Majorities of British Columbians who reside in the Fraser Valley (80%), Vancouver Island (72%), southern B.C. (71%), northern B.C. (60%) and Metro Vancouver (55%) also favour a slow return to normalcy. More than two-thirds of British Columbians who voted for the governing BC New Democratic Party (67%) and the BC Greens (68%) in the 2017 election want to move gradually. Supporters of the BC Liberals are not as convinced (52%).
Reopening the economy quickly is a priority for British Columbians in households with an annual income higher than $100,000 (59%). In stark contrast, only 25% of those in the middle-income bracket and 22% of those in households earning less than $50,000 annually agree with this view.
When the results are analyzed by ethnicity, we see majorities of residents of South Asian and East Asian descent (68% and 51% respectively) wanting a quick reopening of the provincial economy. Only 35% of residents of European descent agree with this course of action.
The numbers so far would suggest that only high earners and middle-aged residents are aching for a fast return to economic activity. However, a look at the British Columbians who have been directly affected by the pandemic gives us a better sense of the current state of affairs.
Only 40% of those who have been unable to visit relatives in their own city or town agree with a quick reopening of the economy in the province. The proportion climbs among those who have endured job losses in their household (52%), applied for the federal Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (53%), are working from home instead of at their regular workplace (also 53%), and are taking care of children because schools are closed (58%). Our wallets, not our hearts, are aching for a swifter return to normalcy.
The results of this survey also serve as a reminder of the way the outgoing leader of the federal Conservative Party misread the public, and slighted Canadians who are at home through no fault of their own. It was not a surprise to see the party’s standing drop as a result of Andrew Scheer’s misguided decision to place surpluses above people. British Columbians who are directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic want a quicker resolution to the economic impasse. In this province, the notion of loosening restrictions only for libertarian or leisure reasons is not supported by genuine data, regardless of how gaudy and obnoxious its proponents are.
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.
Results are based on an online study conducted from May 8 to May 11, 2020, among 800 adults in British Columbia. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in British Columbia. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.