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Public confidence in government’s pandemic management waning

The past two months have not been particularly fantastic for elected officials who have to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Delays in vaccine procurement led to sudden changes in provincial procedures.
Andriy Onufriyenko/Moment/Getty Images

The past two months have not been particularly fantastic for elected officials who have to  deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Delays in vaccine procurement led to sudden changes in provincial procedures.

Canadians are starting to lose their patience, as some components of the economy open while others remain closed.

When Research Co. and Glacier Media asked Canadians about how the federal government is managing the pandemic, 51% were satisfied. This is the lowest level recorded in eight different surveys conducted over the past 12 months and well below the all-time high of 70% observed in June 2020.

The COVID malaise also hit provincial governments. In British Columbia, 83% of residents were satisfied with pandemic management in June and September of last year. Now, only 65% feel the same way. This is still the highest proportion for any provincial administration, but significantly lower than what was observed before last year’s snap election.

In stark contrast, Alberta posted its best rating on COVID handling (65%) in March 2020. This month, just 37% of the province’s residents are content, three points higher than in January, but still the lowest among the four most populous provinces.

Perceptions of provincial performance are also down in Quebec (58%). Ontario joins Alberta this month as the only other province to fall below 50% on this indicator (45%, well under its high mark of 78% in April 2020).

On the inoculation front, the proportion of Canadians who say they will “definitely” or “probably” not get a vaccine against COVID-19 dropped by two points to 14% and includes 19% of Albertans.

Just under half of Canadians (48%) are satisfied with the procurement of vaccines from the federal government. The same proportion (48%) are content with the pace of inoculation efforts in their province, while 54% are happy with the vaccination plans and phases outlined by their provincial administration.

Both Alberta and Ontario are underneath the 50% mark on satisfaction with vaccination plans (46% and 44%, respectively) and the pace of inoculation efforts (45% and 37%, respectively).

There is a bit more confidence in the federal government’s ability to meet the Public Health Agency of Canada pledge (PHAC) issued last year to inoculate every willing Canadian by the end of September 2021. Half of Canadians (50%, up five points since February) think this goal will be reached. As expected, hope is highest among Liberal Party of Canada voters in 2019 (66%) and drops among Canadians who voted for the New Democratic Party (NDP) (48%) and the Conservative Party of Canada (35%).

In spite of the complaints from “snowbirds” and the struggles of tourism operators, sizable proportions of Canadians continue to support various types of travel restrictions, particularly keeping the border with the United States closed to non-essential travel (83%, down five points) and placing all travellers arriving to Canada into a mandatory 14-day quarantine or isolation period (82%, down eight points).

We also continue to see majority support for prohibiting non-essential interprovincial travel (74%, down six points) and non-essential intra-provincial travel (66%, down six points).

Our own behaviour is also trending in a problematic direction. The proportion of Canadians who claim to be wearing a mask every time they go out fell from 81% in January to 77% in March.

In spite of the anxiety caused by the vaccination delays, 47% of Canadians believe that the worst of COVID-19 is “definitely” or “probably” behind us, the second-highest total recorded for this question in more than a year. More residents believe the pandemic will not deteriorate, and this feeling has unfortunately coincided with a slight drop in mask-wearing.

The results of this survey should be an eye-opener for all levels of government, but especially for Alberta and Ontario, where residents are evidently more distressed. At the national level, there is some dissatisfaction with the way the vaccine rollout has been managed, and positive perceptions of the way Ottawa has handled this crisis have plummeted, right before the long-awaited federal budget is introduced. •

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted on March 29 and March 30 among 1,000 adults in Canada. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.