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Outlook: Health care, economy stay top of mind as pandemic’s end nears

The only consistency that the year 2020 brought to our lives is that we all had plans that went astray in the pandemic.
Pollster Mario Canseco finds Liberal lead over Conservatives has narrowed quickly since election call. | BIV

The only consistency that the year 2020 brought to our lives is that we all had plans that went astray in the pandemic.

COVID-19 made us miss out on family gatherings, trips, the roar of sports inside a stadium and the enjoyment of music at a concert hall. As we await the start of 2021, vaccines are on their way to most Canadian arms, and we glance at the calendar yearning for the day when this hindrance will be gone.

This is not a new feeling. Back in April, we asked Canadians when they expected things in their city or town to go back to the way they were before COVID-19. At the time, practically half of us (49%) thought our pre-pandemic existence would return by mid-September. It did not. Maybe it was wishful thinking, but reality set in, even after a summer that brought back some activities that were unavailable during the early stages of the outbreak.

As 2021 is about to begin, Canadians are primarily worried about health care and the economy. The inevitable questions about deficits will follow, but more than three in five Canadians have consistently been satisfied with how the federal government has managed COVID-19. While other countries are now keenly aware of the limitations of their medical services, Canadians continue to hold their health-care system in high regard. Only 9% believe it has so much wrong with it that it needs to be completely rebuilt.

In British Columbia, concerns about housing, homelessness and poverty remain high, particularly as governments begin to plan a post-pandemic recovery where life will be different. In a year that featured an early provincial ballot, two topics that consumed our pre-pandemic existence – pipelines and ride-hailing – are no longer particularly polarizing.

The pandemic also exposed behaviour that will not be our finest hour. In the early stages, Canadians expressed dismay at those who sought to profit, with sizable majorities asking for tough penalties against hoarders and those who showed little regard for their communities.

In the realm of politics, we saw the re-election of three incumbent provincial governments in New Brunswick, British Columbia and Saskatchewan. The situation was very different in the United States, where Democratic party nominee Joe Biden consistently led in national voting intention and captured the key states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to end the tenure of Donald Trump.

When the year started, Canadians were just weeks removed from the supposed threat of “western separatism,” which has proven immensely successful in recruiting followers on social media, but decidedly meaningless at the ballot box. The “separatist” candidates in Saskatchewan and British Columbia garnered the combined support of 0.51% of voters who cast ballots – a number that falls painfully short of suggesting that a true appetite for sovereignty exists in these provinces.

Some of the challenges that we face are global and require an amount of political will that was absent under the outgoing dweller of the White House. The promise of a U.S. federal government that will be a signatory of the Paris Agreement again is welcome news in North America, where 62% of Canadians and 51% of Americans describe climate change as a “major crisis.”

The other deeply worrisome issue – and one that has still not garnered enough attention –is the use of prescription and non-prescription opioid drugs. Canadians are not as concerned about this problem as Americans, but residents of both countries call for an all-encompassing strategy that addresses education, rehabilitation and a safe supply.

We are about to start 2021 with more plans, but perhaps more realistic ones given the current state of affairs. The legacy of the two federal administrations in North America will hinge on the big ideas that are implemented during the period of pandemic recovery. Climate change and the opioid crisis are obvious choices, and ones where the two federal governments in North America can find a new way to communicate and act. •

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.