Quebeckers are an unhappy lot – at least in terms of how they see their governments. With the reputations of municipal politicians being dragged through the dirt and the administrations of both Pauline Marois and Stephen Harper at all-time lows in popularity, there is little reason to hope that things will change soon.
It has been almost four years since a plurality of Quebeckers told the polling firm CROP they were very or mostly satisfied with their provincial government, and almost five years since more Quebeckers were satisfied than dissatisfied with their federal government. That makes for a long trough of unhappiness with the people who govern them.
But this has not just been a recent phenomenon in the province. Out of the last 120 months of CROP polling, or 10 years, a plurality of Quebecers have said they were satisfied with their provincial government in a grand total of only 14 of them. A majority of Quebeckers have been satisfied with their provincial government in only 12 of those 120 months. Federally, the situation is little different.
Why Quebeckers are so disenchanted with their politicians is not much of a mystery. Despite relatively stronger turnout in elections than other provinces, Quebeckers have not had an inspiring or charming leader to look up to in some time. Bernard Landry was defeated in his first election as Parti Québécois leader, Jean Charest did little to reduce the polarization and division in the province, and Ms. Marois has never been considered to have much personal appeal. Federally, Mr. Harper has only rarely received the acclaim of Quebeckers and the Liberal leaders that came before him were tarred by the sponsorship scandal.
Quebeckers dissatisfied with any party in power
Dissatisfaction has quickly set in with the new PQ government, with CROP's latest survey putting it at only 28 per cent. That puts Ms. Marois in the same position as Mr. Charest found himself from November 2010 all the way to his defeat in last September's vote. Over that time, and with the brief exception of the fall of 2011, Mr. Charest's Liberal government met with satisfaction from less than 30 per cent of the population. Briefly, it had even dropped below 20 per cent. Polling by Léger Marketing, Quebec's other major polling firm, showed similarly dismal numbers for Mr. Charest over that time period, and has also pegged satisfaction with the current government at under 30 per cent.
Dissatisfaction was also rampant in 2005, when the provincial Liberal government was polling under 30 per cent. But it was not always so – for much of 2006 and 2007 the Liberals were polling at around 40 per cent satisfaction, while that ballooned to between 50 and 60 per cent during 2008 (when Mr. Charest pulled the plug on his own minority government).
Satisfaction has not always aligned with electoral chances. Mr. Landry was defeated in 2003 despite decent polling numbers on this question. But for Mr. Charest there was a better correlation: satisfaction with his government was near its peak when he won a majority government in 2008, and was near its lowest point when he was defeated in 2012. His minority victory in 2007 coincided with a middling approval rating.
A change of government did not improve satisfaction with the government in 2003 (in fact, dissatisfaction quickly soared to over 60 per cent), but it did have a positive effect after the PQ was installed again in 2012. The first post-election polls showed Ms. Marois's government with a satisfaction rating better than anything seen since 2010 (according to CROP) or even 2009 (according to Léger). But that has quickly dissipated as Quebeckers fall into their usual habits.
How Quebeckers feel about Harper
At the federal level, the Conservatives met with some satisfaction from Quebeckers for the two years after their 2006 election victory, a stark improvement over the dissatisfaction that Paul Martin's Liberal government was registering in 2004 and 2005. But after the 2008 election and the Prime Minister's approach to the coalition affair, satisfaction with the government plummeted to under 40 per cent and has remained there (with only a few blips) ever since. Lately, it has fallen to under 30 per cent as support for the Conservatives in Quebec approaches single digits.
But are Quebeckers any more disheartened than other Canadians? There is reason to think so.
The only other region of the country where consistent 'satisfaction' polling is conducted is in Atlantic Canada by the Corporate Research Associates, and compared to Quebec the region is positively ebullient with their politicians. In none of the Atlantic provinces has dissatisfaction averaged more than 50 per cent in any one year since 2005 (in Quebec, it has only been below that mark once, in 2008). Over that time, every provincial government in the region has averaged 60 per cent satisfaction or more for at least one year (something that has not happened in Quebec in at least the last 10 years) while in Newfoundland and Labrador, under Danny Williams, satisfaction averaged more than 85 per cent between 2006 and 2010.
Based on the approval ratings of their premiers, Alberta and Saskatchewan have been generally pleased with their provincial governments (Alison Redford's approval ratings have dipped recently). Even Christy Clark's B.C. Liberal government, which was among the most unpopular in the country after the HST issue, won re-election earlier this year. Gary Doer was a popular premier in Manitoba (Greg Selinger's numbers have been markedly lower), and even in Ontario the approval rating of Kathleen Wynne's new government is better than what Mr. Charest managed for most of his tenure. To be fair, however, the dissatisfaction Ontarians had with Dalton McGuinty's government in the last few years has certainly rivalled the displeasure of Quebeckers. But Canadians' approval of their federal government has been generally good outside of Quebec and Atlantic Canada since Mr. Harper came to power in 2006.
In an earlier time, this level of disenchantment from Quebec would cause worries about national unity. Quebeckers are about as unhappy with their federal government as they have ever been, and they will not have a chance to vote against it for another two years. But dissatisfaction with their provincial options runs deep, with the PQ being perceived as just as tired and out of touch as the Charest Liberals were at the end of their tenure and the rejection of the Bloc Québécois in 2011 providing a stark demonstration of Quebeckers' disillusionment with their political landscape. The ongoing Charbonneau Commission also contributes to the general malaise, and will continue into next year, while the new faces at the head of the Liberals federally and in Quebec bring old approaches to provincial issues. Quebeckers are likely to remain dissatisfied with their governments for some time to come.
Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com .