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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks to staff after seeing where the first COVID-19 vaccinations were given at Ottawa's Civic Hospital last December.

Blair Gable/Reuters

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.

Canadian politicians had a free ride for most of 2020. That political free ride could easily turn into an ugly free fall in 2021.

Concern about the vaccination implementation is turning pandemic politics on its head.

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The arc of public opinion in 2020 was consistent. Many politicians espoused action to fight the pandemic, standing shoulder to shoulder with public-health officials. They vowed to listen to the best medical advice and exhorted Canadians to wear masks, physically distance and keep contacts to a minimum.

Research in 2020 largely shows that most provincial leaders enjoyed a lift in positive perceptions. Incumbent governments in British Columbia and Saskatchewan were returned to power during elections held amid a pandemic. Even the tarnished image of Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau improved because of his government’s actions in the early days of the pandemic. COVID-19 effectively became a political reset button, allowing politicians across the spectrum to remake themselves.

The week after the 2019 federal election, the proportion of Canadians who thought Mr. Trudeau had the qualities of a good political leader stood at 49 per cent (39 per cent said he did not have the qualities of a good political leader and 11 per cent were unsure). By April, 2020, in the thick of the initial pandemic response, the positive numbers for Mr. Trudeau jumped to 63 per cent from 49 per cent. The black face/brown face controversy of the 2019 campaign seemed to be behind Mr. Trudeau as Canadians saw a Prime Minister clearly focused on the pandemic and working to rally citizens to fight the virus.

Does Trudeau have qualities of a good leader?

Yes

No

Unsure

100%

80

60

40

20

0

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: NANOS RESEARCH

Does Trudeau have qualities of a good leader?

Yes

No

Unsure

100%

80

60

40

20

0

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: NANOS RESEARCH

Does Trudeau have qualities of a good leader?

Yes

No

Unsure

100%

80

60

40

20

0

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: NANOS RESEARCH

Not just his brand but federal Liberal political fortunes rose with the pandemic in 2020 when the government opened a 10-point lead over the opposition Conservatives – effectively propelling a government that lost the popular vote by a whisker in 2019 into clear majority territory. The one setback for 2020 for the Liberals was the WE Charity controversy, where the 10-point advantage evaporated into a dead heat with the Conservatives.

Declaring war on the virus and rallying Canadians to do their share and quickly pumping stimulus into the hands of citizens and businesses buoyed up Liberal fortunes. Our democracy looked resilient, the federal and provincial governments were co-operating, and Canadians felt that those efforts at least helped manage the pandemic.

Then came the second wave, during which the two largest provinces, Ontario and Quebec, adopted a harsher lockdown to contain the virus.

The proverbial shoe dropped when the expected vaccination rollout seemed to sputter, not just in Canada but in many major countries around the world. Vaccinations were ordered, but our rate of vaccination – 2.97 per 100 people as of Tuesday, according to Oxford University tracking – put us well behind key allies and trading partners such as Britain, the United States, Italy, Germany and France.

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Cumulative COVID-19 vaccination doses

administered per 100 people

As of Feb. 10

Canada

U.S.

Britain

France

Germany

20

15

10

5

0

Jan. 2021

Feb.

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: OUR WORLD IN DATA

Cumulative COVID-19 vaccination doses

administered per 100 people

As of Feb. 10

Canada

U.S.

Britain

France

Germany

20

15

10

5

0

Jan. 2021

Feb.

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: OUR WORLD IN DATA

Cumulative COVID-19 vaccination doses administered per 100 people

As of Feb. 10

Canada

U.S.

Britain

France

Germany

20

15

10

5

0

Jan. 2021

Feb.

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: OUR WORLD IN DATA

Canadians have generally done what they were told to do, but have been let down by the one thing they could not control – the timely receipt and rollout of the vaccinations.

It is all the more unfortunate because research by Nanos for The Globe and Mail suggested that 68 per cent said they would definitely take the vaccination when available and another 19 per cent would probably take it.

Will you take the vaccine when it is available?

Definitely take it

68%

Probably take it

19

Probably not take it

4

Definitely not take it

5

Unsure

4

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: NANOS RESEARCH

Will you take the vaccine when it is available?

Definitely take it

68%

Probably take it

19

Probably not take it

4

Definitely not take it

5

Unsure

4

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: NANOS RESEARCH

Will you take the vaccine when it is available?

Definitely take it

68%

Probably take it

19

Probably not take it

4

Definitely not take it

5

Unsure

4

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: NANOS RESEARCH

The federal and provincial governments should be worried about current views on the vaccinations rollout. Canadians rated the federal government a 4.7 out of 10 while provincial governments received a marginally better 5.5 out of 10, according to a new Globe and Mail Nanos survey on the matter. To put this into context, that would be a report card equivalent of a D for provinces and an F for the federal government. This is an interim assessment, and early in the vaccination initiative, but should be worrisome.

Patience is wearing thin, and will continue to do so if Canada remains a laggard in distributing vaccinations.

Much of the messaging from our political leaders has relied on the narrative that the vaccinations would be the solution to the pandemic. Canadians are much less optimistic. Looking at the structure of opinion on vaccinations suggests that those very positive top numbers on taking the vaccination have some darker undertones.

In the same survey for The Globe and Mail, only 43 per cent of Canadians were outright confident the vaccines would work. On the topic of mandatory vaccinations, only 29 per cent agreed that taking a vaccination should be mandatory.

Are you confident that the vaccine will work if you take it?

Confident

43%

Somewhat confident

42

Somewhat not confident

5

Not confident

6

Unsure

4

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: NANOS RESEARCH

Are you confident that the vaccine will work if you take it?

Confident

43%

Somewhat confident

42

Somewhat not confident

5

Not confident

6

Unsure

4

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: NANOS RESEARCH

Are you confident that the vaccine will work if you take it?

Confident

43%

Somewhat confident

42

Somewhat not confident

5

Not confident

6

Unsure

4

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: NANOS RESEARCH

In 2020, elected officials had to ask Canadians to do their bit to fight the pandemic, and they politically benefited by using their platforms to mobilize individual behaviour.

In 2021, it is now time for elected officials to deliver on the vaccine or pay the political price. It does not help when elected officials go on non-essential trips outside of Canada, contrary to the advice of governments. The behaviour has not been exclusive to any political stripe or government but feeds a cynicism in voters that both undermines the pandemic call-to-action and triggers anger among people who are already enduring real personal, mental and economic stress. The pandemic is lasting much longer than anticipated and patience and nerves are fraying.

Exhorting people to do their part is not enough. Elected officials now must do their part.

Note on the data

This column was based on multiple research studies completed by Nanos Research. They were all national random surveys of Canadians composed of at least 1,000 individuals. Random studies of 1,000 are accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Full methodology at www.nanos.co.

More Data Dives with Nik Nanos

As pandemic surged in 2021, Canadians’ opinion of 2020 response was largely positive

How the pandemic could devastate the charitable sector

Even in a pandemic, Canadians don’t want to cut military spending

Canadians take a dimming view on ‘sunny ways’ and government

How the pandemic has changed our views on climate change


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