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Most Canadians seeing light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel: poll

For the first time since the pandemic began, most Canadians surveyed say they believe that the worst is over
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Canadians are feeling increasingly buoyant about the prospect of finally being free of the COVID-19 pandemic
As Canadians await their chance to be inoculated against COVID-19, the past couple of weeks have featured more public demonstrations from residents who have consistently downplayed the threat of the pandemic.

A few weeks ago, we learned that this group of “skeptics” amounted to a tiny minority in British Columbia. When Research Co. and Glacier Media asked Canadians about their views on the current state of affairs this month, 84% consider COVID-19 a real threat, while 12% disagree with this view.

The small group of people who question the validity of the pandemic’s danger represents 14% of Canadian men, 15% of the residents of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan and 20% of Conservative Party of Canada voters in the 2019 federal election. Their views have resonated in some corners of social media, but their message has never been representative of the majority.

As this group remains agitated, the rest of the country looks to the future with hope. This month, most Canadians – for the first time in eight different measurements since the pandemic began – believe that the worst of COVID-19 is behind us (55%), while just over a quarter (27%) think it still lies ahead. These numbers are drastically different from what we saw at the start of the year, when a frustrated holiday season had 50% of us expecting the worst – a proportion that has fallen by 23 points in four months.

One would expect this new buoyant mood from Canadians to be accompanied by an increase in positive perceptions of the work that elected officials have done dealing with COVID-19. This is not the case, with 51% of survey respondents saying they are satisfied with the federal government, unchanged since March. This is the same administration that garnered a 70% rating when this question was asked in June 2020.

A similar situation ensues for provincial governments. British Columbia remains ahead of the other three most populous jurisdictions at 62%, down three points since March and way behind the 83% rating that allowed this administration to call – and easily win – an election last year. Quebec checks in at 61%, up three points since March, but well below the 88% rating posted 13 months ago.

The situation has worsened in Ontario, where only 42% of residents are satisfied with how the provincial government has managed the pandemic. Canada’s largest province has seen a steady decline on this indicator, shedding 26 points since November – just weeks before the finance minister resigned over a “not-so-secret” Caribbean vacation.

Alberta remains at the bottom of the list. Only 34% of Albertans are satisfied with the provincial government’s handling of the pandemic, marking the fourth consecutive survey where fewer than half of residents have been happy with elected officials.

In an ideological twist that would have seemed farfetched two years ago, you are currently more likely to find Ontarians and Albertans satisfied with the federal government (50% and 41%, respectively) than with their provincial administrations (42% and 34%, respectively).

The last few weeks have featured new discussions about a public that has grown tired of rules and regulations to curb the virus. Practically half of Canadians (46%) believe the measures that are in place in their province to deal with COVID-19 are “correct for the situation,” while 29% believe they “do not go far enough” and 19% claim they “go too far.”

As expected, more than half of Canada’s pandemic skeptics (53%) side with the idea that the rules and regulations are too much right now. Ontario and Alberta are once again offside.

In other provinces, the proportion of residents who endorse the measures ranges from a low of 48% in British Columbia to a high of 56% in Quebec. In Ontario and Alberta, the proportions stand at 37% and 36%, respectively, with 25% and 19% of residents claiming that the government is doing more than it should be.

The disconnect between Albertans and their government’s key decision-makers is evident on other questions. The Canada-wide average on trusting provincial governments to release accurate information about cases and hospitalization rates is 61%. In Alberta, it is just 45%. While 58% of Canadians have confidence in their provincial government to establish public health guidelines and restrictions, only 45% of Albertans concur. Even on that most conservative of policy matters – spending tax dollars wisely – Alberta lags behind. While 43% of Canadians give their governments a thumbs up on this matter, the group includes just 27% of Albertans.

This has to be one of the most peculiar sociological events of the pandemic: the proportion of Canadians who believe the worst is behind us is at its highest, but satisfaction with the work of our elected officials is at its lowest. Voters in some provinces – particularly Alberta and Ontario – may not be willing to forget the decisions that their governments have made, even when we can all gather and embrace again. •

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from May 17 to May 19 among 1,000 Canadian adults. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.