MMIW inquiry supported by Canadians, but many pessimistic about outcome: poll

A new poll suggest that four in five Canadians are in favour of the inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women, but almost half are pessimistic about whether it will improve the lives of those affected.

Majority think federal Liberals are doing a good job on the file

A woman wipes away a tear around a sharing circle at the roundtable on missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Winnipeg on Feb. 25. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Canadians are widely in favour of the national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, but almost half of those polled doubt that it will result in improved living conditions for indigenous women in Canada.

These are the findings of a new poll by the Angus Reid Institute, conducted between Feb. 22 and 25. 

The poll found that 79 per cent of Canadians were in favour of holding the inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, with just 21 per cent against. That is virtually unchanged from a poll conducted in July 2015.

Support for holding the inquiry was highest in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada at well over 80 per cent. It was lowest in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, though support was still around 60 per cent in these provinces.

But despite the widespread support for the inquiry, the poll found that 48 per cent of Canadians said they were very or moderately pessimistic that the inquiry would "ultimately result in a better situation for indigenous women in Canada," including 37 per cent of those who said they were in favour of the inquiry being held.

In total, 43 per cent said they were very or moderately optimistic about the outcome of the inquiry, while nine per cent were not sure.

Doubt that inquiry will help

The poll asked those Canadians pessimistic about the outcome of the inquiry — who were largely made up of those nevertheless supportive of it — why that was the case.

A majority of those who were pessimistic felt that the inquiry was doomed to failure through little fault of its own, either because the inquiry's recommendations would not be heeded (35 per cent) or that the problem was "basically unresolvable" (21 per cent).

But just under a quarter of Canadians pessimistic about the outcome, or 24 per cent, felt that the issue would be better left to the police and the courts, rather than to a national inquiry.

Only seven per cent said that the issue was "over-exaggerated in the first place."

Positive marks for Liberal government

Holding the inquiry was one of the key campaign promises of the federal Liberals. Since winning the election in October, the Liberals have made a renewed relationship with indigenous Canadians a top priority of their government.

So far, it seems that Canadians feel that the Liberals are handling the file well. A majority of all respondents, or 55 per cent, said that the federal government was doing a good or very good job on this area of indigenous women's issues. The other 45 per cent said they were doing a poor or very poor job.

But support for the inquiry broke down starkly by partisan lines. Both the Liberals and New Democrats had promised during the election campaign to hold the inquiry, and accordingly 86 per cent of Canadians who voted for the Liberals and 89 per cent who voted for the NDP said they were in favour of the inquiry.

Support for the inquiry among Conservative voters was far lower, though still in the majority — 57 per cent of Conservative voters said they were in favour of holding the inquiry, compared with 43 per cent who were against it.

Stephen Harper's Conservative government had been against holding the inquiry. Now in opposition, the Conservatives under Rona Ambrose have been more supportive.

This poll would suggest that is smarter politics. But while the Liberals may get positive marks for deciding to hold the inquiry, many Canadians have few expectations that it will improve matters. No doubt those affected by the issue, and countless others, hope these Canadians will be proven wrong.

The poll by the Angus Reid Institute was conducted between Feb. 22 and 25, 2016, interviewing 1,515 Canadians via the internet. As the sample was drawn from an online panel, a margin of error does not apply.


Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.