The proportion of Canadians who think the country is moving in the right direction has dropped sharply in the last year, from 64.3 percent to 52.2 percent.
The random telephone poll of 1,017 Canadians from November 1 to 5, 2010 found that Canadians this holiday season are not very festive.
The Canada “right direction” number is 52.2 percent — almost identical to the 53.6 percent we found in 2008 — but that was in different economic circumstances following the crash of the stock market and the start of the worst synchronized global recession in 60 years (question 1). While Canada has come out of the recession in better shape than any of its G7 partners, the weaker “right direction” numbers indicate a lack of confidence in the recovery and a growing malaise, despite six consecutive quarters of economic and employment growth.
The “right direction” response was comparatively lower in Quebec, plunging from 52 percent in 2008 to 38.5 percent in 2010, while 54.9 percent thought the country was headed in the wrong direction. Confidence appeared highest on the Prairies, where 66.2 percent thought the country was headed in the right direction, while the Atlantic (57.4 percent), Ontario (51.1 percent) and British Columbia (54.8 percent) fell in the middle of the scale. Also of significant note, the wrong direction numbers among self-identified Conservative supporters are up. One in four (25.3 percent) thought the country was moving in the wrong direction. This indicates that general grumpiness in the electorate extends to a noticeable portion of Conservative supporters.
When we asked Canadians how they would rate “Canada’s reputation in the world in the last year” (question 2), 31.7 percent replied that it had not improved or somewhat not improved, up from 22.6 percent a year ago. This undoubtedly reflects Canada’s failure to win a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council in October, just weeks before the survey was in the field. There is no doubt that Canada, in the eyes of its own people, has taken a reputational hit.
Again, the lowest marks for the Canadian brand were in Quebec, partly a reflection of the indifference of sovereignist voters, but that doesn’t explain why more than half of Quebecers thought Canada’s reputation in the world had either “not improved” (26.7 percent) or “somewhat not improved” (18.5 percent) in the last year. It was a very different story in BC, which last February hosted the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, a global success story for Vancouver and Whistler, featuring a record haul of 14 gold medals for Canada. In BC, only 12.2 percent of respondents said Canada’s reputation had not improved while another 14.7 percent thought it had “somewhat not improved.”
Not surprisingly, with trend lines heading south, the management scores of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government also took a hit (question 3). Its “very good” or “somewhat good” score stood at only 29.1 percent, the present government’s lowest approval rating since our inaugural Mood of Canada poll in 2007, when its “very good” or “good” score was 39.5 percent. In 2010, 33.3 percent rated his government’s as average, while another 28.4 percent rated it as “somewhat poor” or “very poor.”
Once again, low appreciation in Quebec dragged down the government’s overall management scores. Only 3.4 percent of Quebecers thought the government was doing a very good job, while another 18.8 percent indicated the government’s performance was “good,” for cumulative “very good” “somewhat good” score of only 22.2 percent.
Finally, in our annual question on federal-provincial relations (question 4), the perception that relations had either not improved or somewhat not improved moved up from 32.4 percent in 2009 to 35.5 percent in 2010, the highest levels in the four years we’ve been conducting the Mood of Canada survey for Policy Options.
Once again, the numbers were starkly different in Quebec from the rest of Canada. More than half of Quebecers thought relations between Ottawa and Quebec City had “not improved” (25.5 percent) or “somewhat not improved” (25.9 percent). By contrast, in British Columbia, where outgoing Premier Gordon Campbell has famously got along with the Prime Minister, only 6.6 of respondents thought relations had not improved, while another 24.8 percent thought they somewhat not improved. This may reflect the highly visible federal-provincial cooperation on major endeavours such as the Olympics.
All in all, the Mood of Canada for 2010 can be described as somewhat sour. One cannot underestimate the psychological impact of the Great Recession in terms of how Canadians view their elected officials and also the realities of governing that the Conservatives are facing. As Canada witnessed its fourth year of a Harper-led Conservative government a transition has occurred. At the beginning of the first mandate in 2006, the original Conservative five priorities conveyed a sense of clarity and focus and perceptions of the government were stronger. Over time, the realities of governing have diluted that sense of focus in terms of what Canadians see as the priorities of the Harper government. The result is an emerging malaise and an erosion in confidence.
As the year ends, the question is what these findings portend for the prospect of an election in 2011.