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COMMENTARY: Approval ratings soar for Trudeau and premiers, but can that last?

Approval ratings for Canadian politicians, such as Ontario Premier Doug Ford, pictured here helping unload a shipment of medical masks, have soared in the coronavirus crisis. But pollster Darrell Bricker isn't sure those high ratings will last.
Approval ratings for Canadian politicians, such as Ontario Premier Doug Ford, pictured here helping unload a shipment of medical masks, have soared in the coronavirus crisis. But pollster Darrell Bricker isn't sure those high ratings will last. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Political leaders in Canada are hitting career highs in public approval.

In a recent Ipsos poll done exclusively for Global News, 74 per cent of Canadians surveyed say they approve of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s performance.

This is the highest level of approval we have ever recorded for the prime minister and at least 30 points higher than he received in last year’s election, when he was only able to salvage a minority government after losing the popular vote to the Conservative Party. This is also 20 points higher than the best rating he received during his extended honeymoon with voters after being first elected in October 2015.

READ MORE: Approval of prime minister, premiers soars amid coronavirus response, Ipsos poll finds

It’s the same for Canada’s premiers. All of them are recording career highs in approval.

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A good example is Ontario Premier Doug Ford. At the end of last year, several polls showed Premier Ford’s approval level cratering in the 20s. Today it is at 83 per cent.

Leading the pack is Quebec’s Premier François Legault, who registered 96 per cent approval. In over 30 years of political polling, I have never seen a political leader get an approval rating of 96 per cent.

Prime Minister and premiers get top marks for COVID-19 response: Ipsos poll
Prime Minister and premiers get top marks for COVID-19 response: Ipsos poll

What’s going on? Have we suspended political criticism? Have we even suspended partisan politics? For the moment, this seems to be the case.

Canadians have lined up behind their political leaders in an unprecedented way because we turn to government for solutions in times of crisis. I would argue this is a cultural tendency for Canadians. We regard government as the best institution for achieving our collective goals. A crisis is when we most see this tendency come to the surface.

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Appearances can be deceiving, though.

These approval levels are based more on hope than on accomplishment. This will start to reverse as we begin to come out of the crisis. That’s because we look to our leaders to keep their word and deliver on what they commit to. Maybe not on every specific promise they make during an election campaign, but when political leaders say they have our back in a crisis, they had better be there when we turn around. If they aren’t, that’s when opposition and criticism will kick in again.

At some point, an opposition agenda based on what didn’t happen during the crisis will materialize. That’s when we will move out of dream politics and return to a politics that’s more familiar to us.

READ MORE: One-quarter of Canadians still not fully social distancing for coronavirus, poll suggests

Some leaders will emerge from this crisis with re-energized support and go into their next election with a gust of wind in their sails. Others won’t be so lucky.

For those who think I am wrong about this, they would be wise to remember that Winston Churchill was defeated by Clement Attlee almost two months to the day after Germany surrendered to the Allied forces to end the Second World War in Europe. This is a good reminder of just how fickle voters can be.

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Darrell Bricker is CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs. 

Exclusive Global News Ipsos polls are protected by copyright. The information and/or data may only be rebroadcast or republished with full and proper credit and attribution to “Global News Ipsos.”

This Ipsos poll on behalf of Global News was an online survey of 1,006 Canadians conducted between April 3 and 7. The results were weighted to better reflect the composition of the adult Canadian population, according to census data. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is considered accurate to within plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.