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As Omicron spreads and provinces ramp up restrictions, Canadians are less confident about the state of the nation and its economy, especially among young people

Ads for liquidation sales surround a deserted St. Catherine Street in Montreal on Jan. 2, the first week of tightened COVID-19 restrictions in Quebec, including mandatory store closings on Sundays and a nightly curfew. In general, Canadians began 2022 with less optimism about the nation's future than they did a year earlier.Graham Hughes/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 and the official pollster for The Globe and Mail and CTV News.

One year ago, Canadians were feeling pretty good about the state of the federation. Governments were pro-actively fighting the pandemic, and stimulus was being pumped into the economy. We weren’t thriving, but there was a sense we were coping – at the very least.

The pandemic was an opportunity for provincial leaders, many of whom were rewarded with renewed or even stronger mandates.

But the tide has turned. What was once a political windfall may now be a pitfall, as Canadians increasingly feel the grind of a pandemic that seems to just not want to go away.

Since 2007, Nanos has been conducting the annual Mood of Canada tracking survey, which measures key dimensions on the state of the country. The latest instalment, conducted during the emergence of the Omicron variant, shows an overall souring of the national mood on several fronts.

Would you say that Canada as a country is

moving in the right direction or

the wrong direction?

80%

60

40

20

0

20

40

60

‘07

‘09

‘11

‘13

‘15

‘17

‘19

‘21

Would you say that Canada as a country is moving

in the right direction or the wrong direction?

80%

60

40

20

0

20

40

60

2007

2009

2011

2013

2015

2017

2019

2021

Would you say that Canada as a country is moving in the right direction or the wrong direction?

80%

60

40

20

0

20

40

60

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

The proportion of Canadians who think the country is moving in the wrong direction has jumped from 27 per cent to 40 per cent in the past 12 months.

But what may be most significant is the generational divide. Younger Canadians are much more likely to believe Canada is moving in the wrong direction (48 per cent) than older Canadians.

Should we be surprised?

There’s a new “cancel culture” emerging – with an increasing number of young Canadians cancelling their dreams. The Omicron variant and high inflation have been a one-two punch. In a recent survey completed by Nanos for CTV News, people under 35 were more likely to report cancelling a planned house purchase (62 per cent, compared with a national average of 50 per cent) or cancelling a vacation (62 per cent, compared with a national average of 53 per cent). To put this into context, young people are more than six times more likely to cancel rather than speed up buying a home because of concerns about the rising cost of living.

Young Canadians are the least likely to have confidence in their pay keeping up with the rising cost of living. According to a survey for The Globe and Mail by Nanos, three-quarters of individuals under 35 lack that confidence (10 points higher than the national average).

Outlook on personal finances now compared

with mood before the pandemic

Unsure

Better

The same

Worse

23%

46

30

Outlook on personal finances now compared

with mood before the pandemic

Unsure

Better

The same

Worse

23%

46

30

Outlook on personal finances now compared with mood before the pandemic

Unsure

Better

The same

Worse

23%

46

30

Last year, when asked about the performance of the federal government, Canadians were much more likely to score Ottawa positively – very good (17 per cent) or somewhat good (30 per cent).

In the past 12 months, this positive score has dropped from 47 per cent to 33 per cent. And younger people are more likely to give a thumbs down to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals (49 per cent) than their parents are (40 per cent).

Canadians are already feeling increasingly negative about the relationship between the federal and provincial governments in the context of the pandemic response.

Four in 10 Canadians described federal-provincial relations as improved (10 per cent) or somewhat improved (30 per cent) at the end of 2020. This positive sentiment has dropped to one in four Canadians (4 per cent improved and 21 per cent somewhat improved at the end of 2021). Among residents of the Prairies, a paltry 9 per cent believe federal-provincial relations have become better over the past year.

The views of Canadians on the state of our international reputation do not fare much better.

Looking at all 15 years of tracking by Nanos, 2021 ranks among the three worst years on this measure. People are twice as likely to say our international reputation has not improved (25 per cent) or somewhat not improved (20 per cent), with only 6 per cent saying it has improved and another 15 per cent saying it has somewhat improved.

We begin 2022 with a public opinion environment that is more sour than it was in the middle of the first pandemic wave.

A look at the words people would use to best describe how they feel about the federal government suggests a continuing negative undertone. Twenty-nine per cent would use the word “pessimism,” followed by “anger” (21 per cent), “satisfaction” (20 per cent), “optimism” (14 per cent) and “indifference” (12 per cent).

Feelings towards the federal government

Anger

Pessimism

Indifference

Unsure

Optimism

Satisfaction

14

20

21%

12

5

29

Feelings towards the federal government

Anger

Pessimism

Indifference

Unsure

Optimism

Satisfaction

14

20

21%

12

5

29

Feelings towards the federal government

Unsure

Optimism

Satisfaction

Anger

Pessimism

Indifference

14

20

21%

12

5

29

Views on the strength of the economy, as measured by the Bloomberg Nanos Canadian Confidence Index, provide little solace: 46 per cent of Canadians think the economy will be weaker in the next six months, compared with 19 per cent who believe it will get stronger.

Bloomberg Nanos Canadian Confidence Index

65

60

55

50

45

40

35

2019

2020

2021

2022

Bloomberg Nanos Canadian Confidence Index

65

60

55

50

45

40

35

2019

2020

2021

2022

Bloomberg Nanos Canadian Confidence Index

65

60

55

50

45

40

35

2019

2020

2021

2022

The first step to finding a solution is to recognize that there is a problem.

Right now, with COVID-19 cases on the upswing and economies being locked down, Canada needs political leaders of all stripes to propose long-term solutions for both public health and economic resilience. Booster shots and the government’s Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit are very important yet short-term measures.

The path forward needs to rise above the endemic partisanship in our political culture. Elected officials should be aware of the pessimism of younger Canadians and how the combined forces of the pandemic and inflation are cancelling their hopes and dreams.

Notes on the data

The data cited in this article was collected by Nanos for a diversity of clients using probability sampling. For the detailed methodologies for the studies, visit www.nanos.co or the links within the article to the survey reports. All surveys were conducted in accordance with the Standards of the Canadian Research and Insights Council, of which Nanos is a member.

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