'The last time I've seen numbers close to this were in the final days of Brian Mulroney,' says Maru pollster
As Freedom Convoy marks its second week entrenched in the Canadian capital, a new poll is providing some of the clearest evidence yet that this affair could end up dealing a catastrophic blow to the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Resistance or insurgence? Contrasting takes on the trucker convoy
Although Canadians sympathize with the anti-mandate demands of Freedom Convoy, they increasingly hate the protests themselves. A new Maru Public Opinion poll found that 56 per cent of Canadians don’t have an iota of sympathy for Freedom Convoy — and two thirds wouldn’t mind seeing their blockades cleared by military force.
But Canadians are also turning their ire on a “weak” government response and an intransigent prime minister whom they blame for “inflaming” the situation. The Maru poll, which was conducted from Feb. 9 to 10, found that only 16 per cent of Canadians would vote for Trudeau based on his actions of the last two weeks.
“The last time I’ve seen numbers even close to this were in the final days of Brian Mulroney,” said John Wright, executive vice-president of Maru Public Opinion and a 32-year industry veteran. “I think this could cost him his job.”
Before the first anti-mandate protesters had even rolled into the capital, Trudeau was branding the protest as a “fringe” and “unacceptable” minority with whom he refused to meet. Following the convoy’s arrival in Ottawa, Trudeau stayed the course, saying he was “disgusted” with demonstrators, who he charged with being in the thrall of “conspiracy theories.”
At the same time, the prime minister has largely avoided any direct role in countering the blockades.
For the protest’s first weekend, Canadians didn’t even know where Trudeau was. In the days since, blockades in Ottawa, the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ont., and at border crossings in Alberta and Manitoba have been left in the hands of local law enforcement. Tellingly, it was Ontario Premier Doug Ford — not the federal government — who declared a state of emergency on Friday to counter blockades in Ottawa and Windsor.
Wright says poll numbers point to a misjudgment on both counts. Forty-four per cent of respondents believed that Trudeau’s statements had “inflamed” the situation. While 53 per cent have said he “looked weak in the face of threats to the country.”
“On the ground, at least, the Canadian public sees that our democracy is at threat and the very institutions that are supposed to be doing things about it are largely impotent,” said Wright. “I don’t think the prime minister gets it.”
The Canadian public sees that our democracy is at threat
The Americans would seem to agree. Both Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg this week urged Trudeau to “use federal powers to resolve this situation.”
Trudeau’s uncompromising stance on Freedom Convoy has also drawn criticism from the Bloc Québécois, itself no fan of the protest. Earlier this month, Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet urged Trudeau to “put on his prime minister suit” and refrain from “provocation” in the face of a growing national crisis.
A theme among Maru poll respondents was that whatever Trudeau’s actions these last weeks, they haven’t looked particularly prime ministerial. Only 29 per cent of respondents said Trudeau “has acted like a Prime Minister should” in dealing with the truckers, while 48 per cent thought Trudeau was “not up to the job of being Prime Minister.”
In the background of all this is a simmering frustration that the Trudeau government continues to hang onto harsh COVID restrictions even as governments around the world declare an end to the pandemic.
While Canadians are breaking faith with Freedom Convoy as a movement, they’re increasingly on board with the protests’ demands to end COVID strictures across Canada. A new Angus Reid Institute poll has found that 54 per cent of Canadians now support an immediate end to all COVID restrictions in favour of treating the disease more like the flu.
It’s a stunning turnaround for a population that has been quite supportive of COVID strictures thus far. Just last summer, an incredible 69 per cent of Canadians still favoured lockdowns as an appropriate response to rising COVID cases.
Recent days have seen COVID strictures lifted across the country, with premiers and provincial health officials now openly saying that many restrictions have lost their utility in the face of mass-vaccination and the Omicron variant, which has been less deadly.
“Proof of vaccination has been an effective policy, but its effectiveness has run its course,” Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said this week in a statement announcing the immediate suspension of all extraordinary COVID restrictions.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe: “The proof of vaccination policy has run its course.” Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS, file
Nevertheless, the Trudeau government has resolutely refused to offer anything but minor relaxations to federal strictures. Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos signalled Friday that mandatory PCR testing at the border could soon be abolished for vaccinated Canadians. But Canada’s 3.7 million unvaccinated remain banned from air travel, rail travel and government employment, with no hint from Ottawa on when those strictures might end.
Blockades aside, Trudeau is now facing a joint House of Commons motion from the Conservative Party and the Bloc Québécois calling for an end to COVID-19 restrictions by the end of this month. He is also facing opposition to COVID strictures from within his own caucus. Quebec Liberal MP Joël Lightbound said in remarks this week that he “profoundly despises” Freedom Convoy, but that amidst ongoing lockdowns, “I’ve heard from parents worried to see their kids sink into depression and slowly lose their joy of living.”
But in a Friday press conference, Trudeau did not mention any plan to end COVID strictures. “We’re fighting a virus, we’re not fighting each other,” he said.
The Maru poll was conducted among a random selection of 1,506 Canadian adults who are Maru Voice Canada online panelists. A comparable probability survey of this size would have a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.