Are the Liberals in vulnerable territory? New poll suggests yes

Justin Trudeau responds to questions during Question Period in the House of Commons. Photo from CP Images

A new poll shows that Canadians are starting to get mixed feelings about their government as it approaches the two year mark of its term. While Justin Trudeau remains personally popular, a slight plurality of Canadians think the Conservative Party would form a better government than the Liberals.

The poll, released by the Angus Reid Institute, shows that Trudeau remains popular with half of Canadians, who said they strongly or somewhat approve of him. Official Opposition leader Andrew Scheer clocked in at 34 per cent approval.

Justin Trudeau remains popular with half of Canadians as he nears the two year mark of his government. Graphic from the Angus Reid Institute

Trudeau, however, remains popular with millennials, who are due to become the largest voting bloc in Canada by the 2019 election. Around 60 per cent of millennials support the Prime Minister. But among 35-54 year old he polls at 44 per cent, and among the 55+ demographic, he polls at 46 per cent.

But following a tough summer of NAFTA negotiations, an influx of refugees crossing the U.S. border and the persistent criticism of the new tax plan, 45 per cent of Canadians believe that it is time for a change in government, with the sentiment expressed strongly in every province west of Quebec. The numbers reflect a drop of 15 points for the Liberals’ popularity compared to September 2016, when just 29 per cent of Canadians felt that way.

The Liberals were particularly unwanted in Alberta, where 63 per cent of respondents wanted a change in government, 59 per cent in Saskatchewan, and 43 per cent in Manitoba. Surprisingly, Ontario also displayed signs of fatigue, with 48 per cent of voters saying they wanted a change in government, which is problematic given 81 of the Liberals’ 181 MP’s are from the province.

As it stands, 36 per cent of Canadians say that they think the Conservatives are the best party to form government, while 33 per cent say the Liberals still are. But the decrease in trust for the Liberals didn’t transfer entirely to the Conservatives. The Liberals fell from a high of 45 per cent when they were elected in 2015, a drop of 12 points. The Conservatives have seen only modest gains, rising seven points from 29 per cent at the end of 2015.

Just over a third of Canadians think the Conservatives are the best party to form government. Graphic from the Angus Reid Institute

Canadians were also concerned with the state of the economy, despite Canada having the best growth outlook of any G7 country, according to the IMF. Nearly a third of Canadians felt that their standard of living has dropped in the past year, and 1-in-4 believe that their living standard will drop in the coming year.

That likely explains why 29 per cent of Canadians think that Scheer is better suited to deal with the economy, compared to 24 per cent for Prime Minister Trudeau. But the centrality of the economy as a priority for Canadians has also dropped since the start of 2016, when nearly half (47 per cent) of Canadians named it as their top issue.

Now only 22 per cent say its their priority, the first time the economy has not been cited as the most important issue facing the country. The most important issue for Canadians now is healthcare, mirroring finding revealed in a Yahoo/IPSOS poll showing that 75 per cent of Canadians ranked improving healthcare as their first or second priority.  The focus on the health system tends to happen when the economy is doing well, a tacit ad mission that the state of the economy has improved since the Liberals’ election.

We asked 2000 Canadians to rank their top six areas of interest when it comes to government investment in advance of Canada 150. (Data from IPSOS 2018)

The poll should give the Liberals a moment to pause an assess how they want to move through the next two years. Trudeau’s number are his lowest so far as prime minister, but former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien also polled similarly at the point of his government. More challenging will be getting his party viewed in a more positive light.