Canadians view protests through strongly partisan lenses. In March 2020, INNOVATIVE asked 1,200 Canadians how they felt about the protests held across Canada against a natural gas pipeline proposed by Coastal Gaslink. Results from that survey are compared to the ongoing trucker protests through INNOVATIVE’s Canada This Month survey, in field from February 4th to 14th, 2022, with a sample size of 1598 Canadians weighted to 1000. A detailed methodology is provided in the report.
On a surface level, approval for the response of local police forces, the provincial government, and the federal government is very similar.
Those similarities quickly fade when we look at which Canadians support or oppose police and government actions. NDP and Conservative partisans are far more likely now to say provincial governments are acting inappropriately, although likely for different reasons. All partisans, however, think that the federal government’s responses to the “trucker” protests are less appropriate than they were for Coastal Gaslink.
When it comes to protest actions, like staging a sit-in or blockading a road, Canadians are consistent across protests. Generally, whenever there’s a genuine disruption in people’s lives, they do not support that specific action. For example, in the “trucker” protest, we asked respondents about their support for creating noise downtown, blockading roads, and blockading border crossings. Only 17% report supporting creating noise or blockading roads, and just 18% say they support blockading border crossings. For the Coastal Gaslink protest, the only protest actions that received significant support were marches by supporters (44%) and sit-ins at elected officials offices (38%). The more severe actions in the Coastal Gaslink protest received support comparable to the measures taken by those in the “trucker” protest, including 19% support for rail blockades and 18% for blockading major highways/bridges. Ultimately, protests that disrupt the lives of ordinary citizens are not popular, no matter the cause.
The surveys find a similar partisan reaction when respondents were asked about two key attitudes regarding the protest. The first dealt with whether government should meet with protestors while the second tested whether the ends justify the means.
When it comes to whether government should meet with protestors, just 38% of Liberals felt it sent the wrong message during the Coastal Gaslink protests but 60% feel that way about the “truckers’ protest. The NDP follows a similar pattern. However, Conservative partisans have shifted from 65% agreeing that meeting with protestors sends the wrong message for Coastal Gaslink to just 38% saying it sends the wrong message with the truckers.
Attitudes towards whether the ends justify the means are a little different in that Canadians overall were more likely to see the Coastal Gaslink protest as necessary than currently feel that way towards the “truckers” protest. However, the swings among partisans are similar. New Democrats and Liberals were far more likely to say the Coastal Gaslink protests were necessary than believe the “trucker’ protests are necessary. Meanwhile, Conservatives shifted from strong opposition to the need for the Coastal Gaslink protest to being almost divided over the “truckers” protest.
For Liberals and New Democrats, the Coastal Gaslink protests were at least somewhat necessary and they were divided over whether meeting protesters would set a bad example. Conversely for Conservatives, the Coastal Gaslink protests weren’t necessary and they strongly agreed the government meeting with the protestors would have set a bad precedent. With the “trucker” protests, these positions have been completely reversed.
This research is a snapshot of Canadian opinions and attitudes that captures sentiments from before Monday, when many new developments in the protests occurred, including the discovery of firearms at the Coutts crossing. Whether these new developments will impact opinion is unclear, but if the reactions are at all similar to the previous patterns explored in this research, we can expect a partisan divide to continue.