Nik Nanos is The Globe and Mail's pollster and chairman of Nanos Research.
"It's the economy stupid," was the clarion call for Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign to keep everyone grounded. It held true back then and still holds true today as a reminder that the economic well-being of citizens is part of the core mandate for any government.
Think of the success of the Liberals in the last election, founded on the appetite for change, the campaign performance of Justin Trudeau and the embrace of the overarching drive in the Liberal platform to makes things better for Canada's middle class. It was a powerful combination that vaulted the Liberals from a weak third party to a comfortable majority.
Fast-forward and the Liberals are delivering on change and the Prime Minister has continued his almost frantic personal pace of touring the country and engaging Canadians. It is the third leg of the stool – making things better for Canada's middle class – that could be the shakiest.
The latest Nanos tracking on the national issue of concern suggests that the economy and jobs remain the top unprompted national issues of concern. Canada's once robust energy economy, which helped the country weather the Great Global Recession is still adjusting to a low price of a barrel of oil. The Bloomberg Nanos Canadian Confidence Index trends positive largely on the sentiment that Canadians believe the value of real estate in their neighbourhood will continue to go up while the Governor of the Bank of Canada advises caution regarding the real estate market.
Many of the signature initiatives of the government, all of which are important, do not directly connect to a broader strategy or plan to make Canada's middle class better off. Climate change, while very important, will not be easy to translate into a stronger middle class by the next election. Democratic renewal is very important but disconnected to better jobs for Canadians. Updating our anthem to reflect Canada today? Hard to argue with, but it won't create jobs. Assisted dying? People are passionate about that, but it is not related to a stronger middle class. Throw in the mainstream media fixation on Trudeau's child-care arrangements and one could argue that a good part of the dialogue during the beginning of the Liberal mandate has not been directly related to improving the economic well-being of citizens.
There are two initiatives that can connect to economic well-being. Infrastructure spending and the Trudeau action plan for indigenous peoples. Regardless of one's views, improving the well-being of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples as proposed by the Trudeau government does represent a direct attempt to make things better. The Trudeau government's investment in infrastructure, announced in the spring budget is another case in point. Although Canadians may be weary of big spending government and deficits, the research shows that a very clear majority are good with deficits if directed to infrastructure. Eight of 10 Canadians support or somewhat support additional $11.8-billion in infrastructure spending according to a survey for the Canadian Council for Public Private Partnerships completed in early May.
Arguably one of the most difficult tasks of a government is to prioritize action. With a majority mandate, the Liberals can generally govern as they wish and deliver on platform promises as desired. It's pretty clear that they are delivering on the change promise in both style and substance. Delivering on a stronger middle class may require a new mantra – "it's about the middle class." Governing is more than economic and fiscal issues. When it becomes time for the next election, some voters may be asking themselves if they are better or worse off since they opted for change under Justin Trudeau. On that front, delivering on the promise to help the middle class may be either the signature achievement or disappointment for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.