Politics·Analysis

Quebecers warming up to Trudeau's handling of COVID-19: polls

In the first weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak, Quebecers had been overwhelmingly supportive of Premier François Legault's handling of the crisis and were far less likely than other Canadians to think the federal government was doing a good job. Polls suggest that's changing.

The gap between how Quebecers and other Canadians view the federal government's management of the coronavirus

Polls suggest public approval of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's handling of the coronavirus pandemic has increased significantly in Quebec. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

In the first weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak, Quebecers had been overwhelmingly supportive of Premier François Legault's handling of the crisis and were far less likely than other Canadians to think the federal government was doing a good job. Polls suggest that's changing.

More Quebecers still report satisfaction with their provincial government's performance than with the federal government's actions. But the percentage now saying Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government is handling the crisis well has increased significantly — and there is some indication that support for Legault has cooled in the meantime.

Across Canada, both the federal and provincial governments have received consistently high marks on their management of the global health emergency. But Quebec is the only place where there has been a big difference between Canadians' evaluation of Ottawa's crisis management and their opinion of the provincial government's performance.

A poll by Léger for the Association for Canadian Studies conducted between Mar. 20 and 22 found just 43 per cent of Quebecers were satisfied with the federal government's management of the crisis. That was at least 23 percentage points lower than anywhere else in the country.

Legault's government scored 94 per cent satisfaction in the same survey, making the disparity even starker.

Back in the field between Mar. 27 and 29, however, Léger found satisfaction with the federal government in Quebec sitting at 60 per cent — a jump of 16 points in just a week.

This is not an isolated trend in a single poll. The Innovative Research Group (IRG) found approval with the federal government's handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic increasing 20 percentage points in Quebec between two polls conducted on Mar. 16-18 and Mar. 24-26, to 55 per cent from just 35 per cent.

New data published Friday by IRG (from a survey conducted between Mar. 31 and Apr. 2 interviewing 2,059 Canadians online) shows a continuation of that trend, with approval of the federal government's performance increasing another five points in Quebec to 60 per cent.

Trudeau playing catch-up with Legault

Earlier in the crisis, Legault was being praised for his plain-speaking and decisive leadership, while Trudeau was getting some criticism for acting more slowly than his provincial counterparts.

But between the polls conducted by Léger and IRG, the federal government took a number of significant steps: the prime minister told Canadians to "go home and stay home" while his government recalled Parliament to enact new emergency measures, imposed mandatory quarantines on returning travellers and announced that the wage subsidy would be boosted to 75 per cent.

Meanwhile, the chorus of universal acclaim for Legault has quieted a little, particularly since the premier announced that the province's stockpile of protective equipment for medical workers is running out.

The latest IRG poll found that approval of Legault's performance dropped 15 points to 69 per cent from the 84 per cent that was recorded last week. That now puts Legault's rating on par with those in some other provinces, rather than standing head and shoulders above the rest as it did before.

Polls have suggested overwhelming support among Quebecers for Premier François Legault's performance during the COVID-19 outbreak. (Jacques Boissinot / Canadian Press)

This could explain why the federal government's ratings have been able to play catch-up in Quebec and approach the high levels of support it has received in other parts of the country.

This could also have some political implications (though they might be a low priority at the moment).

The next election in Quebec is not scheduled until 2022 and it's unlikely a federal election will be held any time soon, despite the fragility of the Liberals' minority government. The spread of COVID-19 already has delayed primaries in the United States and leadership races in Canada, and has put off plans to call or force early elections in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick.

Nevertheless, while the Liberals have seen their poll numbers tick up, earlier polls showed weaker support in Quebec. Could that be changing as well?

Bloc support up in Quebec as CAQ surges

Support for Legault's Coalition Avenir Québec has certainly surged during the pandemic. A recent survey by EKOS Research put the CAQ at 52 per cent, 33 points ahead of the second-place Quebec Liberals.

In the 2018 provincial election, the CAQ captured 37 per cent of the vote and beat the Liberals by about 13 percentage points.

This CAQ surge could have contributed to an increase in support for the Bloc Québécois at the federal level. Though the CAQ is not a sovereigntist party, it does share some of the same nationalist positions as the Bloc. The party's leader, Yves-François Blanchet, has been keen to echo Legault's demands in Ottawa.

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet has seen support for his party increase in recent weeks. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Polls by EKOS and Mainstreet Research put the Bloc at between 37 and 38 per cent support in Quebec, up from the 32.5 per cent of the vote the party captured in the province last October. Trudeau's Liberals, however, had fallen from 34 per cent in 2019's election to between 27 and 32 per cent.

The more recent IRG survey suggests a rosier picture for the Liberals in Quebec, giving them a five-point lead over the Bloc before the exclusion of undecided voters. Nationwide, the party is ahead of the Conservatives by double-digits.

Governments around the world are seeing their support increase during this health emergency, which is not unusual in the midst of a crisis or war. Quebec's reaction to Trudeau's performance was a notable exception — and one that was difficult for the Liberals to ignore, considering the importance of Quebec in their electoral coalition.

For the prime minister, the good news is that this potential problem appears to have gone away, at last for the time being. The bad news is that, like all leaders trying to stop the spread of a global pandemic, there are far bigger problems still on his plate.

About the Author

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.

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