Trouble for Justin Trudeau’s government has often landed in the early weeks of a new year — Donald Trump, an unfortunate trip to India, a fateful cabinet shuffle, ministerial resignations and of course, three years ago, a global pandemic.
The first few weeks of 2023 finds the Trudeau government not in a crisis, but a definite slide, according to new polling from Abacus Data, which will be providing exclusive numbers to the Star starting this week.
It’s a slide that isn’t about one thing, but an accumulation of baggage over the general direction of the country, Abacus found, and that’s not good news for the Liberal government. Almost three quarters of respondents to polling from Jan. 27 to 30 said Trudeau’s government wasn’t paying enough attention to the rising cost of living and housing. About two-thirds of the 1,500 people surveyed online said the Liberals weren’t focused enough on the crisis in health care.
“These numbers should be a warning that they are losing the empathy game,” Abacus chief pollster, David Coletto, says in his summary of the findings. “Many Canadians — including their own supporters — don’t think they are focused enough on the core pocketbook issues and the crisis in health care that are occupying people’s attention. Turning that perception around should be job number one for the government.”
Coletto describes this as a “hostile” public opinion environment, particularly as it is directed to Liberals in general and Trudeau in particular. The horse-race numbers tell the tale: Conservatives are out eight points ahead of the Liberals with 37 per cent support, Liberals at 29 per cent, the NDP with 18 per cent and seven per cent for the Bloc Québécois. It’s the biggest lead Abacus has tracked for the Conservatives since Trudeau became prime minister in 2015.
For the record, that is seven years and two months ago — not eight years, as the Conservatives now repeat in almost every question in the Commons this week. Call it inflation of the political-longevity calendar — seven years in real time gets rounded up to eight years when you are trying to make the point about a government being around too long.
Clearly, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and his team are reading numbers too that speak to a fatigue factor with Trudeau’s Liberals.
Voter weariness is a hard thing to shake. Time eventually becomes every prime minister’s enemy. Abacus found that 50 per cent of respondents want to see a change in government. While that’s roughly the same as the numbers immediately after the 2021 election, what’s different is the drop in how many people want to see the Liberals re-elected — down five percentage points to just 14 per cent.
Technically, Trudeau doesn’t have to face the electorate until 2025, thanks to his supply and confidence deal with the New Democrats. On Monday evening, Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh sat down to take stock of the deal, which is almost one year old, and from all indications, the co-operation pact remains intact, despite some public sparring about health care.
The two have something else in common, Abacus found — a souring of the mood toward both leaders. While the poll didn’t ask directly about Singh’s deal with Trudeau, the NDP leader doesn’t seem to have benefited from the association.
Abacus tracks approval of political leaders by measuring approval versus disapproval, to come up with either a “net positive” or a “net negative.” For the first time, Singh has failed to come in with a net positive, with 34 per cent disapproving and an equal amount, 34 per cent, in approval.
“His support for the Liberal government has all but erased any goodwill that Conservative-oriented Canadians had for Mr. Singh,” Coletto writes. “Not likely an issue for the party but his long-term hold on the title of Canada’s most popular national leader is now in doubt.”
Singh still fares better here than either Trudeau or Poilievre. The prime minister has a net negative rating of minus 19, with 31 per cent approval and 50 per cent disapproval. The Conservative leader hasn’t made much of a dent in his ratings, with 34 per cent disapproval, 31 per cent approval and another third of respondents saying they don’t know enough to judge.
Trudeau, it’s said, is sticking around for the next election because he’s convinced he can beat Poilievre. But these latest numbers from Abacus show that his real rival may not be the Conservative leader, but time. And not the time of year — the annual new year barrage of trouble — but time in office. Seven years, two months and a bit. That’s one number, at least, that Trudeau can count on to rise.
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