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A man walks past as artist Jimmy Baptiste as he works on a mural in Ottawa this past July.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Nik Nanos is the chief data scientist at Nanos Research, a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, a research professor at the State University of New York in Buffalo and the official pollster for The Globe and Mail.

So where do you stand?

Do you believe that we are ready to remake Canada into a more progressive society with a stronger social safety net and renewed social contract between citizens and their government? Or are you dour about a potential low- or no-growth future, where livelihoods are at risk and the government is burdened by crushing debt?

New data put a spotlight on views about key public policy issues as well as the level of confidence Canadians have in the government finding (or not finding) solutions.

Asked whether future generations will have a standard of living that is higher than, lower than or the same as Canadians have today, the view is decidedly negative. Fifty-six per cent of Canadians believe the standard of living will be lower, while only 12 per cent believe it will be higher. Negative long-term views outstrip positive views by a significant 4 to 1. Back in 2012, the base year of the tracking, Canadians were more than twice as positive about the future under former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.

CONFIDENCE IN NATION’S ABILITY

TO FIND SOLUTIONS (2020)

Confident

Somewhat confident

Unsure

Somewhat not confident

Not confident

ENSURING CANADIANS HAVE

A HIGH STANDARD OF LIVING

8%

42

4

30

15

*Numbers may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

CONFIDENCE IN NATION’S ABILITY

TO FIND SOLUTIONS (2020)

Confident

Somewhat confident

Unsure

Somewhat not confident

Not confident

ENSURING CANADIANS HAVE

A HIGH STANDARD OF LIVING

8%

42

4

30

15

*Numbers may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

CONFIDENCE IN NATION’S ABILITY TO FIND SOLUTIONS (2020)

Confident

Somewhat confident

Unsure

Somewhat not confident

Not confident

ENSURING CANADIANS HAVE A HIGH STANDARD OF LIVING

8%

42

4

30

15

*Numbers may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

Canadians have been more pessimistic under Mr. Trudeau than Mr. Harper for every one of the six waves of research on this measure – and that was before the pandemic. The ironic twist is Canadians were more hopeful about the future under the not-so-cheerful Harper Conservative government than they are under the “sunny ways” of the progressive Trudeau Liberal government.

On the economic front, there are a number of forces to be worried about. In its response to the pandemic, the Liberal government is projecting a deficit of $343.2-billion for the fiscal year. According to the latest data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the year-on-year percentage change in gross domestic product in Canada will be negative 5.8 per cent in 2020 with a projected increase of 4 per cent in 2021. The total number of hours worked by private sector employees in Canada was down more than 17 per cent, the second worst ranking in the OECD, behind only Britain.

The unevenness of the damage and the potential recovery compounds the economic risks. This pandemic is particularly destructive to some industries and a boost to others, such as online retail platforms such as Amazon. If one happens to be in the hotel, restaurant, arts, culture or recreation sectors, the pandemic is an economic trauma with the only question being not will there be casualties, but how many.

The current government stimulus is masking the prevalence of “zombie companies,” which survive only because of constant refinancing and economic support. Lost revenues for many at-risk service sectors based on cultural events and entertainment will not be recouped. The hope is that previous consumer behaviour might return to past levels some time in the future. It’s too early to tell how many at-risk enterprises will weather the storm. Once the government stimulus for business scales back, Canadians will see the full economic impact of the pandemic as their favourite restaurants, shops and cultural activities potentially are shuttered forever.

The longer-term concerns about a lower standard of living are rational. Canadians were asked about how they stand on what’s important today and the confidence they have in governments finding solutions. (The research did not prompt on any specific government, just governments in general.) Nanos tracks the importance of and confidence in finding solutions on 17 public policy issues, such as balancing the budget, preserving social programs and improving the quality of life for First Nations living on reserves.

The importance of balancing the budget has declined over the past five years, and the confidence in finding solutions to balance it has also noticeably declined since 2012, with about seven in 10 Canadians saying they lack such confidence. Conversely, confidence in stimulus through infrastructure investment has hit a high since 2012.

The key takeaway is that the current situation is akin to a hostage situation. Many Canadians see stimulus as necessary to keep food on the table and to stimulate the economy, but at the same time have little confidence in Canada’s ability to get out of the pandemic stimulus debt trap.

IMPORTANCE OF ECONOMIC

ISSUES (2020)

10

4

Importance

(out of 10)

8

3

6

Confidence in nation’s ability fo find solutions (out of 4)

2

4

1

2

0

0

BALANCING

GOVERNMENT

BUDGETS

10

4

10

4

8

8

3

3

6

6

2

2

4

4

1

1

2

2

0

0

0

0

INVESTING IN

INFRASTRUCTURE

TRADE POLICIES

THAT ENCOURAGE

INVESTMENT

10

4

10

4

8

8

3

3

6

6

2

2

4

4

1

1

2

2

0

0

0

0

BEING ENERGY

SELF-SUFFICIENT

CREATING JOBS

IMPORTANCE OF ECONOMIC ISSUES (2020)

10

4

Importance

(out of 10)

8

3

6

Confidence in nation’s ability fo find solutions (out of 4)

2

4

1

2

0

0

BALANCING

GOVERNMENT BUDGETS

10

4

10

4

8

8

3

3

6

6

2

2

4

4

1

1

2

2

0

0

0

0

INVESTING IN

INFRASTRUCTURE

TRADE POLICIES

THAT ENCOURAGE

INVESTMENT

10

4

10

4

8

8

3

3

6

6

2

2

4

4

1

1

2

2

0

0

0

0

BEING ENERGY

SELF-SUFFICIENT

CREATING JOBS

IMPORTANCE OF ECONOMIC ISSUES (2020)

Importance (out of 10)

Confidence in nation’s ability fo find solutions (out of 4)

10

4

10

4

10

4

8

8

8

3

3

3

6

6

6

2

2

2

4

4

4

1

1

1

2

2

2

0

0

0

0

0

0

BALANCING

GOVERNMENT BUDGETS

INVESTING IN

INFRASTRUCTURE

CREATING JOBS

10

4

10

4

8

8

3

3

6

6

2

2

4

4

1

1

2

2

0

0

0

0

TRADE POLICIES THAT

ENCOURAGE INVESTMENT

BEING ENERGY

SELF-SUFFICIENT

Asked about improving the quality of life among First Nations living on reserves, the importance Canadians place on this issue has been steadily rising over the past nine years – but the confidence in finding solutions remains unchanged. Back in 2012, 36 per cent of Canadians had some sort of confidence in finding solutions; fast forward to 2020 and the confidence remains at 35 per cent despite focused government effort.

IMPROVING THE QUALITY OF LIFE

FOR FIRST NATIONS LIVING ON RESERVES

8%

27

5

37

24

IMPROVING THE QUALITY OF LIFE

FOR FIRST NATIONS LIVING ON RESERVES

8%

27

5

37

24

IMPROVING THE QUALITY OF LIFE FOR FIRST NATIONS LIVING ON RESERVES

8%

27

5

37

24

The positive outliers in the trending relate to health care and social programs. Now, compared with the past, Canadians are more likely to have confidence in finding solutions for these two policy areas, and the importance of them remains strong.

KEEPING OUR HEALTH CARE SYSTEM STRONG

1

15%

45

27

13

PRESERVING SOCIAL PROGRAMS

13%

50

4

24

10

MANAGING THE PRESSURES

OF AN AGING POPULATION

5%

36

3

39

17

KEEPING OUR HEALTH CARE SYSTEM STRONG

1

15%

45

27

13

PRESERVING SOCIAL PROGRAMS

13%

50

4

24

10

MANAGING THE PRESSURES

OF AN AGING POPULATION

5%

36

3

39

17

KEEPING OUR HEALTH CARE SYSTEM STRONG

1

15%

45

27

13

PRESERVING SOCIAL PROGRAMS

13%

50

4

24

10

MANAGING THE PRESSURES OF AN AGING POPULATION

5%

36

3

39

17

The bright spot is that the pandemic has shone a light on government as a pro-active force, helping Canadians by protecting public health and maintaining the social security net. The one new tracking policy issue, confidence in responding to public health threats, scored exceptionally high in terms of both importance and confidence in government.

RESPONDING TO PUBLIC HEALTH

THREATS LIKE A PANDEMIC

1

23%

50

17

9

RESPONDING TO PUBLIC HEALTH

THREATS LIKE A PANDEMIC

1

23%

50

17

9

RESPONDING TO PUBLIC HEALTH THREATS LIKE A PANDEMIC

1

23%

50

17

9

One unexpected outcome of the pandemic and its forced self-isolation and reflection has been the soul-searching of Canadians. Many express a greater appreciation of loved ones, a greater appetite for a simpler life and a re-examination of consumerism. The pandemic will spur that same re-examination of the role of government. The ability of government to be a force for good will be tempered by an economic reality grounded in the debt burden assumed to weather the pandemic.

More serious is the view held by only about one in 10 Canadians that the next generation will have a higher standard of living. If a healthy society is about creating an environment for people to thrive and achieve, then this measure is the canary in the coal mine undermining the social contract between any government and the people.

If one were to sum up more than 30 years of listening to Canadians, the one piece of advice people would have for any elected official would be, “Don’t mess things up.”

Our best moments as a nation are ones where we have been able to embrace pragmatism and the peaceful reconciliation of seemingly contradictory and many times diametrically opposing forces.

Advancing an ambitious positive agenda needs to be tempered in economic reality. However, fear-mongering about the economic future and the debt-driven poisoned chalice passed to future generations belies the real and current need to help Canadians get through the pandemic. This should be a lesson for politicians of all stripes.

More Data Dives with Nik Nanos

Canadians and Americans are more bound by fear than a common set of values

How the pandemic has changed our views on climate change

COVID-19 triggers soul-searching among Canadians

The coronavirus’s economic gut punch has hit Canadians hard

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