Canada is in a foul mood. Sunny ways have given way to gloomy days. The Ipsos Disruption Barometer, which measures economic confidence and sociopolitical stability, has been in negative territory for nearly a year now, indicating that on most economic and political metrics, Canadians are crankier than usual.
On election day 2015, which saw the defeat of the Harper government, an Ipsos/Global News poll of over 12,000 voters revealed that just 36 per cent thought things in Canada were headed in the right direction. On election day in 2019, which saw the incumbent Trudeau government reduced to a minority, just 35 per cent believe things in Canada are headed in the right direction. This is not exactly a ringing endorsement of the past four years.
Despite this, Canadians granted Justin Trudeau another term as prime minister. Receiving fewer votes than Andrew Scheer and the Conservative Party, the Liberal vote was more efficient as the party converted those votes into more seats than the Conservatives.
In reaction to the past four years, opinions about Trudeau have markedly changed. When first elected, Trudeau had a five-point lead over Stephen Harper as Canada’s pick for best prime minister. In 2019’s Ipsos/Global News election day poll, Scheer and Trudeau were tied, with Singh only four points behind Trudeau.
In 2015, Trudeau had a nine-point lead over Harper on being the leader who was most trustworthy. In 2019, just 17 per cent said Trudeau is the leader they could trust most behind both Singh (19 per cent) and Scheer (22 per cent). In fact, 26 per cent of voters said they don’t trust any of our political leaders.
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Of the 16 leadership attributes tested in our election day poll, Scheer had the advantage on 10 of them, Singh on two, May on one and nobody on two others. As for Trudeau, he led on just one of those attributes: representing Canada on the world stage.
In short, the prime minister has lost nearly every advantage he had at the start of his mandate in 2015, and now he has to govern a fractured Canada in a minority-government situation at a time when only 17 per cent of voters trust him more than other leaders.
In 2015, Trudeau and the Liberals were chosen by 43 per cent of Canadians as the party and the leader who they thought would do the best job of keeping Canada together, a full 15 points ahead of the Harper Conservatives. There existed a prevailing belief that Trudeau and his optimism would unite — not divide — Canada.
In the aftermath of the 2015 campaign, the Liberals could claim to be Canada’s national party. They were the only party with representation in every region — indeed, every province — of the country. Now, the Liberals have no seats in Alberta or Saskatchewan, and only 11 in B.C. and four in Manitoba. With only 15 seats west of the Manitoba-Ontario border, they no longer have a legitimate claim to that title.
Much of the discussion in the aftermath of election night has been about the significance of the resurgence of the Bloc Québécois in Quebec and the rising sense of western alienation. For a prime minister who had such a significant lead over his rivals on the national unity file, it must come as a shock to him to see the product of his first tenure in government.
Trudeau has his work cut out for him in earning back the trust of Canadians. Voters have put him in the penalty box and given him a strong message that they are not happy with him or the way things are going.
How he will re-earn the trust of western Canadians while at the same time not further stoking nationalist sentiment in Quebec remains to be seen. Winning the election in this manner has not put him in an enviable position.
He got to keep his position as prime minister by winning the most seats, but to hold on to this role, he will need to regain the trust and respect of the citizenry. If Trudeau is to successfully push his agenda, he will need to do more than borrow some votes from Singh. He may also need to piggyback on some of Singh’s own leadership credentials.
Sean Simpson is vice-president of Ipsos Public Affairs.