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Pandemic realities eroding Canadian confidence in recovery

In March, some politicians and health authorities around the world dared to offer a forecast on the moment life would go back to the way it was before COVID-19 struck. They now live with the psychological consequences that their words created.

In March, some politicians and health authorities around the world dared to offer a forecast on the moment life would go back to the way it was before COVID-19 struck. They now live with the psychological consequences that their words created. Pointing to a date as the moment everything bad will go away has proven futile everywhere.

It is difficult to get an accurate read of the future in an issue that is as all-encompassing as a pandemic. However, we could assume that the experiences we have had since March would place Canada in a position of relative strength compared with other countries. The start of the summer, and the low incidence of new cases in the country, gave us hope. When Research Co. and Glacier Media asked Canadians in late June, 49% felt the worst of COVID-19 was “behind us.”

Two months later, cases are piling up in provinces that seemed indestructible weeks ago, children are about to go back into classrooms and we face the dreaded prospect of a pandemic combined with a “regular” flu season. We are no longer as confident. In our latest survey, only 37% of Canadians think we are past the worst of COVID-19, while 46% believe it lies ahead.

As we start this month, the level of satisfaction with how the federal government has dealt with the pandemic fell by six points to 64%, a rating identical to the one posted by municipal administrations. Provincial governments also saw their cumulative numbers drop by six points, but not all regions are equal. British Columbia was able to maintain its impressive satisfaction rating of 83%, while there were drops in Ontario (68%), Quebec (67%) and Alberta (57%).

Aside from any controversies or cabinet changes, certain decisions taken by the federal government have been immensely popular. Nine in 10 Canadians (90%) welcome both keeping the border with the United States closed to non-essential travel and placing all travellers arriving to Canada into a mandatory 14-day quarantine or isolation period.

The level of support for a different policy – requiring all customers or visitors entering an indoor premise to wear a mask or face covering while inside – reaches 85% across Canada. This would point to a public that is ready to start playing a larger role in a solution to the crisis that can save us from another lockdown.

However, when we ask Canadians if they are wearing a mask every time they go outside, the numbers are not as stellar. We do see that 70% of Canadians are wearing a mask, which is a great improvement from the 48% that reported the same behaviour in late June. Still, this leaves three in 10 Canadians who are unwilling to do so.

We have had many media stories, particularly in urban settings, that have focused on gatherings in which people do not exercise social distance or wear face masks. The crackdown that some provinces have implemented has worked to an extent. Back in March, we reported on the appetite for tougher rules to deal with opportunists that were hoarding and reselling, not partying.

Still, the self-reported behaviour of Canadians when it comes to masks does not have uniformity. Women and younger Canadians are more likely to be always wearing their face coverings outside, while men, members of generation X and baby boomers appear to be less cautious. 

A nationwide consensus is not absolute on the “back to school” issue. While 51% of Canadians welcome the idea of allowing K-12 students to go back to in-class learning, 42% are not in favour of this course of action. The next few weeks will be crucial in determining if the move towards a normalization of school systems was well designed and implemented. Ontario, where only 46% of residents are currently supportive of the return to classrooms, will be under the spotlight.

But not all is bad news, especially when we are being bombarded with “fake news” in the form of ubiquitous WhatsApp messages and social media musings. The proportion of Canadians who would get inoculated against COVID-19 remains high at 74%. Our desire to take a vaccine if one ultimately becomes available has not been dented by conspiracy theorists.

Six months into the pandemic, the satisfaction numbers are impressive for all levels of government when compared with other areas of competency, but a six-point drop across the board may be a sign of fatigue. While we have seen Canadians embrace face masks exponentially since May, not everyone is wearing one outdoors. The painful reality is that Canadians are no longer buoyant about having flattened the curve and are more likely to expect the current state of affairs to worsen. •

Mario Canseco is the president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online survey conducted from August 30 to September 1, 2020, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error – which measures sample variability – is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.