Governments got the COVID response right, most Canadians — outside the Prairies — feel

But in some provinces there are high degrees of polarization, with more Albertans thinking the response was excessive or insufficient than thought it was balanced

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A majority of Canadians believe that federal and provincial governments responded appropriately to the COVID-19 pandemic, but some provinces were more divided, according to a new poll released by the Association for Canadian Studies.

The national opinion survey by Leger found that despite the protests and political uproar around various restrictions and vaccine mandates, 54 per cent of Canadians believe their governments responded in an appropriate and balanced fashion. Just 26 per cent believe that the response was excessive, while just 13 per cent of Canadians count themselves among those who believe governments didn’t respond with sufficient severity.

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“As time elapses, more of us will tend to lose sight of the state of urgency that many of us found ourselves in, in the middle of the pandemic,” said Jack Jedwab, president and CEO of the Association for Canadian Studies. “So as we look back, I think, disproportionately we’ll see more people thinking that we overreacted when looking at it in retrospect.”

In some parts of the country, though, there is evidence of more intense polarization on these questions. In Alberta, 44 per cent said the government’s response was balanced. But slightly more (a combined 46 per cent) thought governments did either too much or too little. Twenty-five per cent said the response was excessive and 21 per cent said the response was insufficient. Similar figures exist in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where 30 per cent believe the response was not balanced, and 20 per cent believe it wasn’t enough, while 49 per cent thought it was balanced.

“It was very hard to carve out the middle of this, given that the two ends of the spectrum were kind of going at each other,” Jedwab said.

Of all the provinces, Quebec has the highest rates of approval for the government’s response. Sixty-six per cent of Quebecers felt the government’s response was appropriate, compared to 56 per cent in the Atlantic provinces, 31 per cent in Ontario and 51 per cent in B.C.

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“Those who think it’s excessive or insufficient are indicators of the degree of polarization around this issue,” Jedwab said.

An anti-mask protest in Calgary.
Hundreds of anti-mask protestors rally outside city hall in Calgary on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. Photo by Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia/File

The views on how Canadian governments handled the pandemic tend to hew closely along political affiliation. Of those who consider their political ideology on the right, 65 per cent said the government’s response was excessive, while about 26 per cent said they believe it was appropriate. Of those who consider themselves right-of-centre, about 42 per cent said the response was excessive, while 46 per cent said it was appropriate. Of those in the political centre, about 56 per cent said the response was appropriate, and 24 per cent said the response was excessive. Of those who consider themselves left of centre, just under 10 per cent said that the response was excessive, while 73 per cent said the response was proportionate.

Only among those who consider themselves politically on the left do a significant proportion think the government’s response was insufficient. Twenty-six per cent said governments didn’t do enough, compared to just under 12 per cent of those who are left-of-centre, just over 12 per cent of those in the centre, 10 per cent who are right-of-centre and about nine per cent of those on the political right.

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While Canadians may have somewhat more polarized views on governmental responses to COVID-19, they largely feel like they made appropriate choices themselves: 82 per cent felt they handled the pandemic well, while just 10 per cent said they overreacted and four per cent said they didn’t do enough. The polling, Jedwab said, shows that people who felt they overreacted, said it was because of the way the government acted. Of those who said they personally overreacted, 66 per cent also felt that the government overreacted.

“That’s what basically the message is, if I overreacted, it’s not my fault I overreacted, it was because the government did so,” Jedwab said.

The polling also asked about some of the takeaways from the pandemic. Of those who felt they had overreacted, just under 34 per cent believe the main takeaway is that governments are not to be trusted. Of those who felt their response was appropriate, the largest takeaway, at about nine per cent, was that other people are selfish and ignorant. For those who said their personal response to the pandemic was insufficient, just under 17 per cent said their main takeaway was that other Canadians were stupid, ignorant or selfish.

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“It makes for a very big challenge in terms of aligning those two points of view in the event that this thing re-emerges,” Jedwab said.

Leger polled 1,500 Canadians via an online survey the week of Sept. 25. A margin of error cannot be associated with a web panel survey, but for comparison purposes, a probability sample of 1,500 respondents would have a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

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Originally posted 2023-10-17 10:00:02.