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Trudeau’s approval rating drops amid WE scandal, faith in Liberals remains: poll

Trudeau grilled over WE Charity controversy
ABOVE: Trudeau grilled over WE Charity controversy.

Despite strong approval for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s image has taken a hit amid the WE Charity scandal, according to an Angus Reid survey.

Trudeau’s approval rating in May sat at 55 per cent, but that number fell to 44 per cent as of July 23, the survey showed. Half of the respondents said their opinion of Trudeau has worsened in the past month.

Read more: Approval of prime minister, premiers soars amid coronavirus response, Ipsos poll says

Angus Reid Institute executive director Shachi Kurl said that after the SNC Lavalin affair last year, Canadians were still trying to warm up to Trudeau, despite voting him in again for a second term. But the coronavirus pandemic changed that and his approval rating shot up in March.

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“It took the worst health crisis in our country for him to climb out of this hole with Canadians. They were impressed with how he handled the early stages of the outbreak and the subsequent months,” she said.

But then the WE Charity scandal hit.

‘I‘m sincerely sorry’: Trudeau apologizes for not recusing himself from WE contract talks
‘I‘m sincerely sorry’: Trudeau apologizes for not recusing himself from WE contract talks

“Normally Canadians start to check out this time of year, but there’s been an appetite for a non-coronavirus story. The WE Charity story has found a willing audience, and it certainly does not help that this is the prime minister’s third ethics investigation in five years,” Kurl said.

“His approval ratings are starting to go down again.”

Fifty-nine per cent of respondents felt the issue was a serious and significant one, which was twice the number who said it was overblown by the media and opposition parties, the survey found.

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The drop in approval rating comes as Trudeau is set to testify at the finance committee hearings, which is investigating why the Liberals awarded WE Charity Canada a contract to manage a $912-million grant program aimed at helping students.

Morneau reimburses $41,000 in unpaid bills to WE
Morneau reimburses $41,000 in unpaid bills to WE

Both Trudeau and his Finance Minister Bill Morneau are the subjects of an investigation by the federal ethics commissioner over the deal and their failures to recuse themselves from discussions on the matter.

Morneau testified last week and admitted he and his family have made “significant” donations worth tens of thousands of dollars to WE Charity and only just repaid $41,000 in what he says were previously unknown expenses due to the organization from family trips.

The finance committee is set to meet on Monday evening to discuss a date for Trudeau’s testimony.

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Not enough to topple Trudeau’s minority government

Stephanie Plante, director at the Centre for Security, Intelligence, and Defence Studies at Carleton University, said the WE Charity issue may be controversial for Canadians, but the Trudeau government has a good record of riding out these scandals.

“They are really great at apologizing. Trudeau and his ministers have learned that if you say you’re sorry it can work out,” Plante said.

“The Liberals do really seem to kind of weather all storms.”

A majority of Canadians seem to agree.

Fifty-six per cent of respondents said the scandal will only have a minor impact on the Trudeau government, meaning it will embarrass the prime minister but ultimately the party will survive. Thirty-two per cent believed the issue could topple the government and 12 per cent said the story will be forgotten in a matter of weeks.

Read more: Ethics commissioner launches investigation into Trudeau, $900M WE Charity contract

Views on this issue differed per province and political association.

For example, Quebec (43 per cent) and Saskatoon (39 per cent) residents were most likely to say the government is at risk of collapsing over the scandal (43 per cent). Atlantic provinces (15 per cent) and Alberta (14 per cent) were more likely to believe the scandal will have no impact on the Liberal government.

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Respondents who identified as Conservatives were most likely to believe the issue will topple the Trudeau government (54 per cent).

Three-quarters of past Conservative voters said the case of the Trudeau government and WE is possibly criminal and needs to be investigated by police. Nineteen per cent of 2019 NDP voters said the same and six per cent of past Liberal voters.

Residents who live in Atlantic Canada (13 per cent) were more likely to believe the We Charity issue was a “simple mistake,” the survey found. Residents in Saskatchewan (58 per cent) were most likely to believe the issue is a criminal act and should be investigated by police.

COVID-19 still at top of Canadians minds

According to the survey, 19 per cent of Canadians said the WE scandal is one of their top three issues facing the country. This equals the percentage who said this during the SNC-Lavalin scandal in 2019, the poll stated.

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More men (25 per cent) than women (14 per cent) were likely to believe this. And Manitoba (29 per cent) and Alberta (28 per cent) were the provinces most likely to find the WE scandal an important issue, while the Atlantic provinces (16 per cent) and Quebec (15 per cent) were least likely.

Ex-ethics commissioner talks Trudeau, WE Charity controversy
Ex-ethics commissioner talks Trudeau, WE Charity controversy

Although the WE probe is at top of mind for some Canadians, the main priority for most is COVID-19.

Forty per cent of Canadians said the coronavirus is their top issue, while the economy (34 per cent), health care (31 per cent) and climate change (27 per cent) trailed behind, the poll found.

“We have noticed an increase in the number of people who say ethics and corruption is an issue for them, but still nowhere near the top of the list, which is dominated by health care, the economy and climate change,” Kurl said.

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Methodology: This Angus Reid survey was conducted between July 23 and July 24, 2020.
For this survey, a sample of 1,519 Canadians aged 18+ was interviewed online. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding. The survey was self-commissioned and paid for by ARI.