In INNOVATIVE’s August Canada This Month survey, the numbers show the winds of public debate are blowing hard against Trudeau, who is paying a price for the continued coverage of the WE controversy in the form of a drop in vote share and government satisfaction.
Government approval has dropped 9 points since May: Canadians are now divided (51% to 43%) on whether or not they are satisfied with the performance of the federal government. Similarly, Liberal vote share among decided voters has dropped four points since May, with only a slight plurality who would vote Liberal (38%) over Conservative (28%).
Two significant challenges to Liberal leadership emerged over the summer that could help explain this shift in approval and vote share: federal policies to help mitigate the devastating economic and health risks of COVID-19, and the WE controversy.
When explicitly asked about the government’s handling of the issue, a majority (57%) still approve, but that is down 6 points since July. However, looking at recall of specific policies related to COVID-19, such as the additional $2 billion in funding to provinces to safely reopen schools, for example, shows, among those who have heard something, Canadians have had a positive response. While in July we saw COVID-19 approval and overall government satisfaction drift apart, this month approval of the government on COVID-19 may be getting dragged down by politics getting back to normal.
That leaves WE. In the first week of August, our research showed that the WE controversy dominated news coverage, with 7-in-10 (70%) mentioning the controversy as their top recalled item. Of those who identified it, 2-in-3 (67%) left the story with a more negative impression of the Liberal government. In the last week of August, only a third (33%) of those who have heard something recall the WE controversy, but, as in early August, that recall leaves a strongly negative impression. Two-in-three people (66%) who remember hearing of the controversy are left with a more negative impression of the federal government, while only 4% say they have a more favourable one.
As for the federal government response to the WE controversy, both the cabinet shuffle of Morneau (14% more favourable, 42% less favourable) and the parliament prorogue until September (3% more favourable, 72% less favourable) leave Canadians with a strongly negative impressions of the Liberal government.
While it’s clear the government paid a price for the WE controversy in August, there are some signs they might be turning a corner now. Overall awareness of the federal government is down and while WE is still the top issue, it doesn’t dominate the way it did before. Reaction to the Liberal government’s new initiatives on education has been positive. The question is when parliament resumes later in September will that bring WE back front and center in the political debate or will a second wave of COVID-19 be at the centre of discussion once again?
For detailed results, download INNOVATIVE’s full report here.