Insights

Will support for governments’ pandemic response survive a return to politics as usual?

Posted by
Anna Lilly
Insights

Will support for governments’ pandemic response survive a return to politics as usual?

Écrit par
Anna Lilly

As a public affairs consultant, I tend to see the world through a political lens, and I pay close attention to the deliberations and decisions of governments.

Canadians tend to prefer ‘big government’. We cherish our public health care system and we count on a strong social safety net. Our politics is shaped by a belief in a collective responsibility to our communities and to each other – and we’ve been fortunate to have a wealth of natural resources and a strong economy to help maintain stability and protect ourquality of life in this country.

Of course, not all Canadians have benefited, and in fact too many continue to face injustice and discrimination. But we’ve started to make progress in addressing these inequities, and all levels of government have started to lean in and make big investments on a range of social issues. Canadian politicians have also started to make important moves on what was – until March 2020 – the biggest threat facing humanity: climate change.

Now throw into the mix a global pandemic that has devastated thousands of families and disrupted nearly every aspect of our economy and our lives. In those first few months of the COVID-19 lockdown, progress on critical environmental and social issues seemed to lurch to a halt, or at least fade to the background. But what didn’t change was Canadians’ trust in governments to take the right actions to protect our collective well-being.

Back in the early spring of 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, politics faded into the background as governments focused on crisis response. Indeed, we’ve never seen so much of our elected leaders with near-daily announcements about the spread of the coronavirus, the response of the healthcare system, financial relief measures for workers and businesses, and now a focus on economic recovery.

Governments of all types – federal, provincial, territorial, regional and municipal – have responded to the pandemic with quick decisions and unprecedented spending. Most Canadians strongly support their actions, according to public opinion research commissioned by FleishmanHillard.

 

Our global study, carried out in June 2020, compared Canadians’ views to residents of six other countries: the United States, the UK, China, Italy, Germany and South Korea. The results show some interesting distinctions between how residents of Canada and other countries feel about their governments.

When asked who they want to hear from regarding new testing and safety or preventative measures associated with COVID-19, 54% of Canadians would look to government officials, compared with the global average of just 39%. Other trusted sources for Canadians were public health officials, infectious disease experts and doctors, not surprisingly.

Canadians were also more likely than citizens of other countries to say good things about how governments in this country have responded to the COVID-19 crisis. Provincial governments got the highest marks– 79% ranked as ‘good’, ‘great’ or ‘excellent’ within Canada compared to 72% globally.

Local governments have performed well according to 77% of Canadians vs. 74% globally, while the federal government’s performance was rated positively by 76% of Canadians, well ahead of the global average of 69% for other national governments.

A similar trend was seen around governments’ commitment to “doing the right thing” in relation to the pandemic, with Canadians more favourable towards federal, provincial and local governments compared to their global counterparts.

These findings don’t surprise me, particularly when I think about those core beliefs that many Canadians share around the role of governments in providing the systems and services that keep us safe and healthy. It will be fascinating to see if support for governments – and for the specific political leaders who have been at the helm during this crisis – will hold as we learn more about the long-term implications of the unprecedented spending in response to COVID-19, and how we’re all going to pay for it.

In the early days of the pandemic crisis, politics certainly took a back seat. But of course it never went away. As we head into the fall, opposition parties are electing new leaders. Federal politics were rocked by the surprise resignation of Canada’s finance minister. We’ll have at least two provincial election campaigns before 2020 is over, in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan. And British Columbia’s minority government is in perpetual election-readiness mode.

Canadians are bracing for an extended recovery from the pandemic and will soon demand clarity about governments’ plans to support economic growth and get public finances back in order.

Will the belief that governments are ‘doing the right thing’ remain, and perhaps translate into the re-election of incumbent governments? Will minority governments – like in Ottawa or Victoria – pull the trigger on early elections to take advantage of public support and try for majority status?

Or in this time of change and upheaval, will Canadians look to a new group of leaders to take public policy in a different direction as we emerge from this crisis?

As an observer of politics living through a time of unprecedented change, I would say: anything can happen. But there’s something comforting about the re-emergence of politics and to know that our democracy is alive and well, even in a pandemic.

Looking for more information and advice on the road to recovery? Find the latest COVID-19 insights and resources or contact our team.

As a public affairs consultant, I tend to see the world through a political lens, and I pay close attention to the deliberations and decisions of governments.

Canadians tend to prefer ‘big government’. We cherish our public health care system and we count on a strong social safety net. Our politics is shaped by a belief in a collective responsibility to our communities and to each other – and we’ve been fortunate to have a wealth of natural resources and a strong economy to help maintain stability and protect ourquality of life in this country.

Of course, not all Canadians have benefited, and in fact too many continue to face injustice and discrimination. But we’ve started to make progress in addressing these inequities, and all levels of government have started to lean in and make big investments on a range of social issues. Canadian politicians have also started to make important moves on what was – until March 2020 – the biggest threat facing humanity: climate change.

Now throw into the mix a global pandemic that has devastated thousands of families and disrupted nearly every aspect of our economy and our lives. In those first few months of the COVID-19 lockdown, progress on critical environmental and social issues seemed to lurch to a halt, or at least fade to the background. But what didn’t change was Canadians’ trust in governments to take the right actions to protect our collective well-being.

Back in the early spring of 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, politics faded into the background as governments focused on crisis response. Indeed, we’ve never seen so much of our elected leaders with near-daily announcements about the spread of the coronavirus, the response of the healthcare system, financial relief measures for workers and businesses, and now a focus on economic recovery.

Governments of all types – federal, provincial, territorial, regional and municipal – have responded to the pandemic with quick decisions and unprecedented spending. Most Canadians strongly support their actions, according to public opinion research commissioned by FleishmanHillard.

 

Our global study, carried out in June 2020, compared Canadians’ views to residents of six other countries: the United States, the UK, China, Italy, Germany and South Korea. The results show some interesting distinctions between how residents of Canada and other countries feel about their governments.

When asked who they want to hear from regarding new testing and safety or preventative measures associated with COVID-19, 54% of Canadians would look to government officials, compared with the global average of just 39%. Other trusted sources for Canadians were public health officials, infectious disease experts and doctors, not surprisingly.

Canadians were also more likely than citizens of other countries to say good things about how governments in this country have responded to the COVID-19 crisis. Provincial governments got the highest marks– 79% ranked as ‘good’, ‘great’ or ‘excellent’ within Canada compared to 72% globally.

Local governments have performed well according to 77% of Canadians vs. 74% globally, while the federal government’s performance was rated positively by 76% of Canadians, well ahead of the global average of 69% for other national governments.

A similar trend was seen around governments’ commitment to “doing the right thing” in relation to the pandemic, with Canadians more favourable towards federal, provincial and local governments compared to their global counterparts.

These findings don’t surprise me, particularly when I think about those core beliefs that many Canadians share around the role of governments in providing the systems and services that keep us safe and healthy. It will be fascinating to see if support for governments – and for the specific political leaders who have been at the helm during this crisis – will hold as we learn more about the long-term implications of the unprecedented spending in response to COVID-19, and how we’re all going to pay for it.

In the early days of the pandemic crisis, politics certainly took a back seat. But of course it never went away. As we head into the fall, opposition parties are electing new leaders. Federal politics were rocked by the surprise resignation of Canada’s finance minister. We’ll have at least two provincial election campaigns before 2020 is over, in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan. And British Columbia’s minority government is in perpetual election-readiness mode.

Canadians are bracing for an extended recovery from the pandemic and will soon demand clarity about governments’ plans to support economic growth and get public finances back in order.

Will the belief that governments are ‘doing the right thing’ remain, and perhaps translate into the re-election of incumbent governments? Will minority governments – like in Ottawa or Victoria – pull the trigger on early elections to take advantage of public support and try for majority status?

Or in this time of change and upheaval, will Canadians look to a new group of leaders to take public policy in a different direction as we emerge from this crisis?

As an observer of politics living through a time of unprecedented change, I would say: anything can happen. But there’s something comforting about the re-emergence of politics and to know that our democracy is alive and well, even in a pandemic.

Looking for more information and advice on the road to recovery? Find the latest COVID-19 insights and resources or contact our team.

Anna Lilly
Co-Chair of FHR's Public Affairs Practice
Anna Lilly is Co-Chair of the FleishmanHillard HighRoad Public Affairs Practice. She has over 20 years of experience in media, government, and communications, including various federal, provincial, and municipal election campaigns.