Canada

Trust in Canadian political leaders has cratered during the pandemic, poll finds — except in Quebec

The survey suggests that incumbent governments — at least from Ontario westward — may run into trouble when the next election comes around

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OTTAWA — A new poll suggests that most Canadians have less trust in their current political leadership because of how the COVID-19 pandemic was handled, with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau taking the worst hits.

But the poll also found one province to be a notable outlier: Quebec, where respondents reported a substantial increase in trust in Premier François Legault’s leadership. The only other place where respondents reported an increase in trust was in Atlantic Canada, though the gains were much less than in Quebec.

The survey suggests that incumbent governments — at least from Ontario westward — may run into trouble when the next election comes around.

The poll surveyed 1,500 Canadians from April 30 to May 4, and was conducted by public strategy firm Navigator’s research division, called Discover by Navigator.

The political leaders of Ontario and Alberta fared the worst in how the public’s trust has changed during the pandemic, the poll found. Both provinces have seen massive third waves this spring that have resulted in strict lockdowns to ease the pressure on hospitals.

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Fifty-four per cent of Albertans said they have less trust in Kenney now because of the pandemic, with just 13 per cent saying they have more. In Ontario, 51 per cent said they have less trust in Ford, while 20 per cent said their trust has increased.

The poll uses the difference between the two trust numbers to create a “pandemic trust progression score,” which puts Kenney at -41 and Ford at -31.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, also suffered a hit in his trust score with the public. The poll found 44 per cent have less trust in Trudeau, while 19 per cent have more, giving him a -25 trust score.

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, Alberta saw the steepest drop in trust for Trudeau, with a trust score of -43. But his second worst numbers were found in B.C., where half of respondents said their trust in him has decreased and only 15 per cent said it increased. Trudeau fared relatively poorly in the other regions as well, except for Atlantic Canada, where his trust score was +3.

B.C. Premier John Horgan had slightly better numbers but still negative overall, with 35 per cent of British Columbians saying they trust him less now and 22 per cent saying they trust him more.

One exception to the public’s eroding trust is in Atlantic Canada, where the poll found slightly more trust overall for the premiers.

The much greater exception is Quebec, however, where trust in Legault has soared. The poll found 43 per cent of Quebeckers saying they trust Legault more now, while 20 per cent said they trust him less. This lines up with other recent public polling that has found Legault performing well in public support.

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Navigator principal André Pratte, a former Canadian senator and editorial writer with Quebec newspaper La Presse, said Legault’s numbers are a bit surprising given Quebec’s rocky pandemic performance in the early months, when its case count and death rate were the highest in the country.

But Quebec has seen a milder third wave than other provinces, and Pratte said there might be other reasons that have also helped Legault.

“When (the pandemic) happened in long-term care homes, people knew that Legault had been there for a year, you can’t put all the problems on him,” Pratte said. “So that’s number one. And he was transparent. He did take part of the blame, he did not avoid the tough questions. So I think that’s part of it. And in Quebec, at least, the opposition parties were already weak from the beginning.”

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Trust in Canadian political leaders has cratered during the pandemic, poll finds — except in Quebec

Pratte said trying to map out the political consequences of this isn’t as simple as it might seem.

“This is not voting intentions,” he said. “Trust is part of it. It’s an important part of it. But it doesn’t mean that anything is definitive.”

Still, he said Legault’s strong public support could spell trouble for Trudeau in the province, which is always influential in federal elections given it has a quarter of all seats. The poll found 37 per cent of Quebec respondents had less trust in Trudeau now, compared to 23 per cent who had more.

“If I was a Liberal organizer, I’d be worried by the numbers in Quebec,” Pratte said. “Many races will be very, very tight in Quebec. The Bloc Québécois is doing quite well, the Conservatives have high hopes also. So anything is possible.”

The poll also asked respondents about other institutions and organizations during the pandemic. It found large businesses had a trust score of -18, small and medium businesses had a trust score of +22, and doctors and healthcare workers had the highest overall trust score at +38.

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