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Protesters demand the removal of COVID-19 restrictions outside the Ontario legislature in Toronto.

CHRIS HELGREN/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.

When anti-lockdown protestors showed up at Queen’s Park demanding businesses be reopened, Ontario Premier Doug Ford quipped “they’re just a bunch of yahoos” and proceeded to lay out his clear and measured approach to handling the COVID-19 outbreak. Research by my firm for CTV News shows that Canada’s “yahoo minority” is a mere 5 per cent of the population. When asked how much longer it should be before all businesses can be reopened, only one in 20 Canadians answered: immediately.

Political leaders should not feel any pressure to rush the reopening of the country, because data suggest Canadians believe more government intervention will still be required to stabilize things. Four of 10 Canadians are outright unsure when all businesses should be allowed to reopen, with the most popular response being one or two months from now.

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What’s clear is that the COVID-19 anxiety trend line, which has climbed like a rocket for much of the past two months, is now starting to flatten. In the weekly tracking of the top unprompted issue of concern, the novel coronavirus went from a response of zero per cent in January, to a high of 50 per cent of Canadians in mid-April, to 38 per cent by the beginning of May. The anxiety curve is flattening, but concern about jobs and the economy is on the rise.

Canadians and COVID-19

MOST IMPORTANT NATIONAL ISSUE,

ACCORDING TO RESPONDENTS

Coronavirus

Jobs/economy

Health care

Environment

50%

4,000

45

Confirmed

COVID-19

deaths in

Canada

(right axis)

3,500

40

3,000

35

2,500

30

25

2,000

20

1,500

15

1,000

10

500

5

0

0

Jan. 3

Feb. 7

March 6

April 3

May 1

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: NANOS RESEARCH; JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY

Canadians and COVID-19

MOST IMPORTANT NATIONAL ISSUE,

ACCORDING TO RESPONDENTS

Coronavirus

Jobs/economy

Health care

Environment

50%

4,000

45

Confirmed

COVID-19

deaths in

Canada

(right axis)

3,500

40

3,000

35

2,500

30

25

2,000

20

1,500

15

1,000

10

500

5

0

0

Jan. 3

Feb. 7

March 6

April 3

May 1

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: NANOS RESEARCH; JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY

Canadians and COVID-19

MOST IMPORTANT NATIONAL ISSUE, ACCORDING TO RESPONDENTS

Coronavirus

Health care

Jobs/economy

Environment

50%

4,000

Confirmed

COVID-19 deaths in

Canada (right axis)

45

3,500

40

3,000

35

2,500

30

25

2,000

20

1,500

15

1,000

10

500

5

0

0

Jan. 3

24

Feb. 7

21

March 6

20

April 3

17

May 1

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: NANOS RESEARCH; JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY

Even with the government providing billions of dollars to weather the COVID-19 storm, most Canadians believe that more aid for individuals and businesses will be needed. Survey data suggest that six in 10 Canadians believe that much more aid or somewhat more will have to be infused into the economy before things return to normal. One current estimate, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, is that the federal deficit alone will balloon to a whopping $252-billion this year.

If experts are correct and we face another wave of the disease, what fiscal wiggle room will the government still have when it seems it’s already thrown all it has – and more – at COVID-19? The cost to flatten the curve may be borne by a generation of Canadian taxpayers who now have been economically and socially scarred. This could very well be a watershed moment that remakes society, like the Great Depression.

Consumer sentiment research done by Nanos for Bloomberg News suggests that Canadians are six times more likely to say that they will spend less, rather than more, on non-essential items after stores and businesses reopen. Many Canadian retailers and businesses should be bracing themselves for economic hunger games.

SURVEY RESULTS

Percentages

How much longer should it be before all

businesses in Canada should be

allowed to reopen

5%

Immediately

8

Two weeks

15

One month

Two months

14

19

Three months or more

Unsure

40

After stores and businesses reopen,

I will spend…

…more on non-

essential purchases

6%

…less on non-

essential purchases

36

…the same on non-

essential purchases

54

Unsure

4

Level of worry about shopping

in person at grocery stores

22%

Not worried

27

Somewhat not worrried

35

Somewhat worried

Worried

11

Have not been shopping

in these stores

5

Meeting people in public

post-COVID-19 outbreak

I will return to my

normal habits

18%

I will be more cautious

63

I always preferred to

avoid personal contact

15

Unsure

4

Note: Numbers may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: NANOS RESEARCH

SURVEY RESULTS

Percentages

How much longer should it be before all

businesses in Canada should be allowed to reopen

5%

Immediately

8

Two weeks

15

One month

Two months

14

19

Three months or more

Unsure

40

After stores and businesses reopen, I will spend…

…more on non-

essential purchases

6%

…less on non-

essential purchases

36

…the same on non-

essential purchases

54

Unsure

4

Level of worry about shopping

in person at grocery stores

22%

Not worried

27

Somewhat not worrried

35

Somewhat worried

Worried

11

Have not been shopping

in these stores

5

Meeting people in public post-COVID-19 outbreak

I will return to my

normal habits

18%

I will be more cautious

63

I always preferred to

avoid personal contact

15

Unsure

4

Note: Numbers may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: NANOS RESEARCH

SURVEY RESULTS

Percentages

How much longer should it be

before all businesses in Canada

should be allowed to reopen

Level of worry about shopping

in person at grocery stores

5%

Immediately

22%

Not worried

8

Two weeks

27

Somewhat not worrried

15

One month

35

Somewhat worried

Two months

14

Worried

11

19

Three months or more

Have not been shopping

in these stores

5

Unsure

40

After stores and businesses

reopen, I will spend…

Meeting people in public

post-COVID-19 outbreak

…more on non-

essential purchases

I will return to my

normal habits

6%

18%

…less on non-

essential purchases

36

I will be more cautious

63

…the same on non-

essential purchases

I always preferred to

avoid personal contact

54

15

Unsure

4

Unsure

4

Note: Numbers may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

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

The new normal may be one in which Canadians shift from being hyper-consumers, incurring debt to splurge on non-essential items, to frugal, measured and debt-averse customers. The days of “shop till you drop” may be replaced with the motto of the Great Depression: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” One casualty of the flattening of the COVID-19 curve may very well be supercharged consumerism.

Governments navigating the post-COVID-19 world may also find that their initial response to the pandemic was much easier than the transition to stability. Instructing Canadians to stay at home and remain physically distant from their neighbours are quick and easy directives. Federal and provincial political leaders have generally been of one mind on the public health front. Orchestrating a coherent strategy to move forward, from both a public health and economic perspective, will be much more difficult to plan and manage.

Likewise, agreeing to pump money to stabilize the lives of Canadians and maintain the viability of businesses is easy. Managing the deficit and debt, and balancing the need for a diverse portfolio of government priorities, ranging from the environment through to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, could very well rend asunder the current political consensus.

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There is no consensus among Canadians about what to do with the deficits and debt incurred to get through the COVID-19 outbreak. About 28 per cent believe government programs and current tax levels should be maintained, and the debt allowed to increase. Another 25 per cent believe there should be new taxes on businesses. Just 9 per cent say taxes on individuals should be increased.

Perhaps that is the only consensus on the path forward – that the tax burden on individuals should not be increased to pay for the fight to flatten the curve. Here, another casualty of the COVID-19 outbreak may be a breaking of the political orthodoxy of some politicians, mainly on the right side of the spectrum, that deficits are bad.

The casualties will not just be economic, but social. In a world where international travel is equated with health risks and where borders are strictly controlled, a new type of xenophobia may emerge where people normalize social behaviour with loved ones and friends, but remain socially distant to strangers, because a stranger could represent an unknown health threat.

In a survey for The Globe and Mail, 63 per cent of respondents said they will be more cautious after the COVID-19 outbreak is over. Just 18 per cent said they will return to normal human contact such as handshakes when greeting people. It should be no surprise that one half of Canadians are worried or somewhat worried about shopping in-person at the grocery store. A third casualty of flattening the COVID-19 curve will likely be a change in social norms.

One cannot dismiss the human casualties. Even though this pandemic is not as virulent or deadly as the Spanish flu of 1918, it will leave its psychological scar. Many more Americans will be killed by COVID-19 than by the Vietnam War, which affected the American psyche for a generation. The COVID-19 death toll in London over the four weeks to April 17 rivalled the death toll of the Blitz in the Second World War during its worst four-week stretch, according to The Economist.

May marks the 75th anniversary of the end of the Battle of the Atlantic, a defining moment for Canada. Sadly, it is possible that Canada’s COVID-19 casualties could reach or eventually surpass the more than 4,400 members of the Royal Canadian Navy, Royal Canadian Air Force and Canadian Merchant Navy who lost their lives when the war came to Canada’s doorstep.

HUMAN CASUALTIES,

COVID-19 vs. SELECT WARS

COVID-19 deaths as of May 8, 7:30 a.m. (ET)

= 1,000 deaths

CANADA

BATTLE OF

THE ATLANTIC

4,488

COVID-19

4,541

BRITAIN

COVID-19

30,615

THE BLITZ

43,500

UNITED STATES

COVID-19

75,670

VIETNAM WAR

58,220

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: VETERANS AFFAIRS CANADA; NATIONAL ARCHIVES; IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM; JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY

HUMAN CASUALTIES,

COVID-19 vs. SELECT WARS

COVID-19 deaths as of May 8, 7:30 a.m. (ET)

= 1,000 deaths

CANADA

BATTLE OF

THE ATLANTIC

4,488

COVID-19

4,541

BRITAIN

COVID-19

30,615

THE BLITZ

43,500

UNITED STATES

COVID-19

75,670

VIETNAM WAR

58,220

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: VETERANS AFFAIRS CANADA; NATIONAL ARCHIVES; IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM; JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY

HUMAN CASUALTIES, COVID-19 vs. SELECT WARS

COVID-19 deaths as of May 8, 7:30 a.m. (ET)

= 1,000 deaths

CANADA

BRITAIN

UNITED STATES

COVID-19

4,541

COVID-19

30,615

COVID-19

75,670

BATTLE OF

THE ATLANTIC

4,488

THE BLITZ

43,500

VIETNAM WAR

58,220

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: VETERANS AFFAIRS CANADA; NATIONAL ARCHIVES;

IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM; JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY

Fortunately for Canada, the “yahoos” are still firmly on the fringe. But the human, social and economic casualties incurred to flatten that curve are serious and will likely redefine a generation.


Nik Nanos on data: More from The Globe and Mail

Data Dive with Nik Nanos: The coronavirus’s economic gut punch has hit Canadians hard

Data Dive with Nik Nanos: Making sense of Canada’s joyless democracy


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