The public’s views on Canada’s global reputation and on the functioning of the federation are emerging as the areas of greatest departure between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his predecessor Stephen Harper.

The post-election enthusiasm we saw around the Liberals in late 2015 is now quite muted. The scores assigned to the Trudeau government’s performance are now comparable with those the Conservatives saw at the same time in their mandate.

These are the key findings of year 10 of the Nanos–Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP) Mood of Canada Survey and tracking study.

Perhaps most striking are the responses this year to the question of whether the country is going in the right or wrong direction (figure 1). They are not very different from the those garnered by the Harper government in the periods following the 2008 and 2011 elections. In both cases Harper hit above 60 percent of “right direction” responses after the electoral win, and then dropped down to about half of Canadians thereafter. This suggests that the advantage the Liberals are enjoying in terms of voter preference is more the result of a leadership void in the opposition parties than any sort of rock-solid embrace of the Trudeau team. In short, there is little exceptional about the public’s views on the Liberal government, given this period in their mandate.

Figure 1

In terms of government performance, in 2015 Canadians had very high expectations of the Trudeau Liberals and initially gave them the highest federal government performance rating in a decade. Now the government’s performance ratings are comparable with those that were afforded the Harper government in 2011 – a noticeable drop from the euphoric ratings of the Liberals after the election (figure 2).

Figure 2

The key takeaway here is that the narrative of Canadians being enraptured by the government’s sunny ways is misplaced. Canadians are feeling just about as sunny about their federal government today as they were at comparable points during Harper’s mandate.

There are two areas that are points of departure between the Liberals and the Conservatives: Canadians’ views on federal-provincial relations (figure 3) and on our global reputation (figure 4). Here the Liberals are currently positive outliers compared with the Conservatives. Asked about the functioning of the federation and whether the relations between the federal and provincial governments are improving or not improving, the Liberals score twice as high as the Conservatives in their best year (45 per cent versus 21 per cent). The conclusion? The turbulence of the federal-provincial relationship under the Liberals is still viewed more positively than it was under the Conservatives. Perhaps the Liberals, merely by engaging with their provincial counterparts proactively, are making Canadians feel they are doing better than the Conservatives.

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Figure 3

The one number that jumped after the Trudeau win and continues to trend upward is the one about Canadians’ views on the country’s reputation around the world. After the Trudeau win, there was a more than 20-point jump in positive sentiment on Canada’s global reputation, and it continues to trend upward. In that respect, the greatest positive impact of the Trudeau government so far in its mandate is in how Canadians feel we are being seen from the outside.

Figure 4

Overall the long-term trend suggests that it’s a stretch to view the Liberals as being the one party that is able to harness voters’ excitement. Canadians’ views on the direction of the country and on the government’s performance under the Liberals are comparable with the views they expressed about the Conservatives. However, when it comes to how Canadians feel about our reputation globally and how our federation is functioning, there is some sunshine associated with the Trudeau government.

Nanos Research and the IRPP have been conducting the Mood of Canada Survey since 2007. The latest wave is based on a Nanos telephone and online survey of 1,000 Canadians, conducted between December 16 and 19, 2016. Participants were randomly recruited by telephone using live agents and administered a survey online. A random survey of 1,000 Canadians is accurate ±3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Photo: Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press

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Nik Nanos
Nik Nanos is the chief data scientist and founder of Nanos Research and an adjunct research professor at the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs.

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