Skip to main content
opinion

In a recent Nanos Research survey, more than three in 10 respondents said they liked nothing about either Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre.Cole Burston and Patrick Doyle/Reuters

Nik Nanos is the chief data scientist at Nanos Research, a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington and the official pollster for The Globe and Mail and CTV News.

Who do you dislike least? That sums up our current political environment.

Canada was once heralded as an outlier in a world gripped by controversial politicians such as former U.S. president Donald Trump, Brexiteer Nigel Farage and France’s Marine Le Pen. Back in 2015, the election of Justin Trudeau and his “sunny ways” government set the country apart on the international stage.

Fast forward to 2022 and we have fully joined the club of angry, polarized countries. In a new national survey for The Globe and Mail, Canadians are clearly grumpy about the two main contenders for prime minister. The fact that more than three in 10 say they like nothing about either the Liberal or Conservative leaders should serve as a wakeup call.

The Nanos survey allowed Canadians to say whatever they wanted in terms of their positive and negative perceptions of Mr. Trudeau and the newly-elected Tory Leader, Pierre Poilievre.

When asked what positive things came to mind when thinking of Mr. Trudeau, the top responses included nothing (31 per cent), that he did a good job during the pandemic (12 per cent), his social policies (12 per cent), his representation of Canada internationally (8 per cent), his hair/looks (7 per cent), the views that he cares about Canada (6 per cent) and that he is doing a good job (5 per cent). When asked about the negative things associated with Mr. Trudeau, 16 per cent said “too much spending.”

Meanwhile, more than four in 10 (41 per cent) said there was nothing they liked about Mr. Poilievre. On the other hand, 6 per cent said he’s someone who works for and stands up for Canadians, 6 per cent thought he was a good speaker and 5 per cent called him bright or intelligent. As far as negatives, 22 per cent called him “too right wing.”

What positive things come to mind when you think of Justin Trudeau / Pierre Poilievre?

Per cent who have answered ‘nothing’

Pierre Poilievre

41%

Justin Trudeau

31.2%

Preferred prime minister, first-ranked choice

Justin Trudeau

Pierre Poilievre

Unsure

Poilievre wins

Conservative

leadership

35%

30

25

20

15

May

2022

July

Sept.

What positive things come to mind when you think of Justin Trudeau / Pierre Poilievre?

Per cent who have answered ‘nothing’

Pierre Poilievre

41%

Justin Trudeau

31.2%

Preferred prime minister, first-ranked choice

Justin Trudeau

Pierre Poilievre

Unsure

Poilievre wins

Conservative

leadership

35%

30

25

20

15

May

2022

July

Sept.

What positive things come to mind when you think of Justin Trudeau / Pierre Poilievre?

Per cent who have answered ‘nothing’

Pierre Poilievre

41%

31.2%

Justin Trudeau

Preferred prime minister, first-ranked choice

Justin Trudeau

Pierre Poilievre

Unsure

Poilievre wins

Conservative

leadership

35%

30

25

20

15

Jan.

2022

March

May

July

Sept.

In a head-to-head match-up against Mr. Poilievre, Mr. Trudeau comes out on top as preferred prime minister (46 per cent compared with 30 per cent for Mr. Poilievre) – largely as a coalescing choice for progressive voters. But when stacked up with all the federal party leaders it is very narrow race between the two.

In a recent survey for Bloomberg News, although the two are tied on managing the economy, Mr. Poilievre outscores Mr. Trudeau as to whom people would trust to control the rising cost of living. Considering the rising cost of living is a top issue of concern for Canadians, Liberals should not take those positive Poilievre numbers lightly.

The Tories become more competitive the longer the Liberals are in power as government fatigue creeps in. Right now, the overall Liberal Party brand is weaker, having been thumped in provincial elections in Ontario and Quebec, dropping to the mid-teens of provincial support. The past winning formula of blue Liberals and progressive Conservatives vying for the mushy middle to win a majority government is, to paraphrase the Monty Python parrot sketch “no more; it has ceased to be.”

Pro-Polievre and anti-carbon-pricing signs at a leadership campaign rally in Ottawa this past March.Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

Polarization has always been a part of the political landscape. With Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Poilievre leading their parties, it has come into sharper focus. After all, the last two national elections had outcomes gripped in indecision. The party with the greatest number of seats lost the national popular vote.

With winning a parliamentary majority out of reach, the parties reverted to narrowcasting to small pockets of voters and demonizing most Canadians who disagreed with them.

Pandemic politics had one party dismissing anyone who questioned strict lockdowns (the Liberals) and another party implying that Canada was no longer a land with freedoms (the Conservatives). The reality is that both parties went too far in their messaging and sought to polarize voters and fire up their core supporters.

While leaders and their parties look to score political points, Canadians remain worried about the future.

Asked which words they would use to describe the federal government in Ottawa (not the Liberals specifically, but the government in general), the top two feelings are pessimism (31 per cent) and anger (23 per cent), followed by satisfaction (17 per cent), disinterest (13 per cent) and optimism (12 per cent). People in the Prairies are the angriest (36 per cent), but there is an underlying tone of negativity across the country.

A paltry 11 per cent of people believe the next generation will have a higher standard of living, while 62 per cent of Canadians say they’ll face a lower standard of living. In the short term, according to weekly tracking by Nanos for Bloomberg News, Canadians are four times more likely to think the economy will get weaker rather than stronger in the next six months.

How will the Canadian economy

change in the upcoming year?

Weaker

Stronger

Don’t know

No change

52.6%

13.2

28.2

6

Most important national issues of concern

Environment

Health care

Jobs/economy

Inflation

20%

15

10

5

0

May

2022

July

Sept.

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: NANOS RESEARCH

How will the Canadian economy

change in the upcoming year?

Weaker

Stronger

Don’t know

No change

52.6%

13.2

28.2

6

Most important national issues of concern

Environment

Health care

Jobs/economy

Inflation

20%

15

10

5

0

May

2022

July

Sept.

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: NANOS RESEARCH

How will the Canadian economy change in the upcoming year?

Don’t know

Weaker

Stronger

No change

52.6%

13.2

28.2

6

Most important national issues of concern

Environment

Health care

Jobs/economy

Inflation

20%

15

10

5

0

Jan.

2022

March

May

July

Sept.

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: NANOS RESEARCH

It’s like everything is going wrong. People are concerned about the environment in the wake of the devastating storm in Atlantic Canada, the economy with a possible global recession, inflation with the rising cost of food and energy, and health care as hospitals and emergency rooms buckle under stress.

While this is happening, the strategy of the Liberals and Conservatives looks the same – both have a tepid interest in appealing to a majority of voters but have a burning desire to divide, cajole and fire up their ideological bases.

This polarization, once it grips countries, leads to gridlock, division and an overall decay in the confidence of our democratic institutions. When voters can’t pay the bills and politicians fail to focus on solutions, the social contract which makes for a healthy society is damaged. The promise of democracy is to create a stable, safe and respectful space for people to live. It is the hope, not the guarantee, that future generations have a chance to improve their quality of life.

Today’s political climate means voters are forced to choose who they dislike least, not who can build a better country and a brighter future.

Politics: More commentary from The Globe and Mail

John Ibbitson: Trudeau’s aggressive federalism may leave Ottawa weaker than before

Campbell Clark: Conservative shadow cabinet is no team of rivals

Gary Mason: The vitriol aimed at public figures is worsening, and platitudes aren’t helping

Robyn Urback: Conservatives decide to compete in the victimhood Olympics

Lawrence Martin: Should Poilievre be the one taking on the media, or Trudeau?