Higgs trails Atlantic peers in perceived compassion, poll suggests

·4 min read

Canadians believe their politicians are lacking compassion more than any other leadership quality right now, according to a recent online poll conducted by Leger with a panel of respondents.

While compassion was a quality seen as lacking for many leaders, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs had the lowest compassion rating of any Atlantic Canadian premier, earning a score of 5.7 on a 10-point scale from respondents. By comparison, Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King had a compassion score of 7.8 from respondents.

The poll was conducted while the province was in yellow phase, prior to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in New Brunswick.

Higgs's compassion score is the third lowest in the country, coming out ahead of Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister and Albert Premier Jason Kenney.

When asked by Brunswick News for his response to these polling results, Higgs said, “Well, I’m obviously disappointed that this would be the outcome [of the poll]. However, throughout this whole process I’ve tried to balance what we need to get through this, as individuals and as a province, so that at the end of COVID – which we do see, that end in sight – we actually have a province that can survive and provide employment.”

Université de Moncton political scientist Donald Savoie said compassion just isn’t a part of Higgs’s brand.

“The competent manager is the image he wants to project,” said Savoie, adding if your brand is fiscal prudence, it’s difficult to project compassion.

Higgs’s highest score, a 7.3, was for decisiveness. He also scored a 6.9 per cent for managing the pandemic, a score which is higher than many other leaders, but lower than that of Nova Scotia or P.E.I.’s premiers.

Higgs also had one of the lowest scores for collaboration; residents gave him a 6.3, the third lowest score in the country.

Higgs’s compassion score is likely a result of his approaches to problems and the way he has been communicating to the public, said Mount Allison University political scientist Mario Levesque.

“Higgs doesn’t appear friendly, seems more feisty and quick to temper,” said Levesque. “He’s champing at the bit. He has a very narrow agenda and doesn’t like to be pulled away from it.”

By contrast, P.E.I. Premier Dennis King could be delivering similar news or restrictions, but he seems more open in his delivery, Levesque added. He noted that it may help that King is a former comedian.

The public's perception of compassion is also likely influenced by the way a variety of policy files have recently been handled, which may be giving Higgs some baggage, said Levesque, citing moves to reduce rural hospital ER access and not moving forward on an official inquiry into systemic racism.

Joanna Everitt, a political scientist at University of New Brunswick, said while it is clear compassion is not an adjective many associate with the premier, it doesn’t mean they aren’t satisfied with his leadership.

Although his cumulative leadership score also fell below other Atlantic premiers, character traits should not be confused with performance satisfaction or willingness to vote for someone, although they can form the basis of these other assessments, said Everitt.

Higgs said he is looking forward to working closely with public health, his colleagues and the other parties.

He said he thinks in the end “we will measure performance on actual results, not opinions. I feel confident that at the end of the day, we're going to look back on this and say New Brunswick came through this in a way like no other province, because we've got a province left when we actually get through COVID.”

A total of 3,801 online surveys were conducted through Leger’s online panel, LEO and partner panels. Interviews were conducted from Dec 4 to 20, 2020.

Leadership scores offered by the study were a cumulative average on the 10-point scale calculated from the sum of scores on six attributes: trustworthiness, transparency or openness, decisiveness, good communication, compassion and collaboration.

As a non-probability internet survey, a margin of error was not reported. If the data were collected through a random sample, the margin of error would be plus or minus 1.6 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Clara Pasieka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal