Canadians are in a foul mood these days when it comes to how they view the federal government, a new Nanos Research poll shows.
Who could blame them?
The deceit, irresponsible spending, vote-buying schemes and attacks on the integrity of Canada’s justice system over the past two years couldn’t possibly make most people feel warm and fuzzy about their government in Ottawa.
When asked in the Nanos survey what feeling best describes their view of the federal government, 53 per cent said either "pessimism" or "anger." Only 30 per cent said "satisfaction" or "optimism."
The gloomy outlook was strongest in the West, not surprisingly. Western alienation, the feeling that Ottawa is out of touch with the needs of western provinces – particularly Alberta – hasn’t been this bad in decades.
The level of optimism and satisfaction towards Ottawa was highest in Ontario, but still only at 38 per cent.
There is no single issue driving this animosity. Governments tend to suffer the death of a thousand cuts over time. However, it is unusual to see a majority government struggling this badly in its first term. The federal Liberals must be doing a lot of things wrong in the minds of the public to be in this much trouble so early in their mandate.
At the top of the list has to be the SNC-Lavalin scandal. Senior federal officials, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, attempted repeatedly to politically interfere in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, the Montreal-based firm facing fraud and corruption charges. Trudeau admitted as much publicly in a March 7 press conference. The prime minister confirmed he asked then-attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to change her mind on the SNC-Lavalin file and spare the company a prosecution.
Other senior officials, including Trudeau’s former principal secretary Gerald Butts, also confirmed – during testimony at a Commons justice committee – the many attempts to influence Wilson-Raybould’s decision.
It obviously had a profound effect on how Canadians see their national government.
Not far behind is the federal government’s bungled carbon tax scheme. Ottawa has demanded all provinces charge the tax on various fuels or face a federal one, which Ottawa began implementing this year in four provinces, including Manitoba. They’ve done so without any evidence the tax, which will reach $50 per tonne by 2022, will have any material impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Most of the revenue from the tax will be returned to taxpayers in the form of a rebate. However, small businesses are taking the biggest hit since they will see very little of the tax returned to them.
Meanwhile, federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna continues to trot around the country arrogantly lecturing Canadians that if they oppose the tax, they don’t care about the environment. That alone has put a sour taste in the mouths of many Canadians.
Then there’s the federal deficit. The Liberals inherited a balanced set of books from the former Harper government in 2015. (There was a surplus in 2014-15 and a small deficit in 2015-16 after the Liberals took over).
Trudeau pledged during the 2015 federal election the shortfall would not exceed $10 billion a year. He insisted a Liberal government would balance the books by 2019.
But within their first full year in office, the Liberals posted an $18-billion deficit and spent well beyond their means every year since. Worse, they’re projecting even larger deficits in future years and have no timeline on when they might balance the books. In the meantime, the federal debt has ballooned from $612 billion to $683 billion. It’s expected to eclipse $700 billion by next year.
The federal government is borrowing money to pay for operating expenses in relatively good economic times. And it’s forcing future generations to pay for it.
No wonder most Canadians are angry or pessimistic about their government in Ottawa.
They should be. The Trudeau government’s lackluster response to the social and economic conditions of First Nations alone are worthy of disdain. Despite platitudes about reconciliation and doing right by Canada’s Indigenous people, we still see communities without basic services that non-Indigenous communities take for granted. Attawapiskat in Northern Ontario, which has declared a state of emergency due to contaminated water, is a case in point.
Now, on the eve of an election, the Liberals are trying their level best to buy the support of Canadians (with borrowed money), including propaganda-style ads about beefed-up child benefit cheques and new goodies for first-time homebuyers.
They see the gloom. They’re now pulling out all the stops to avoid the doom.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.
Updated on Saturday, July 27, 2019 at 11:08 AM CDT: Corrects to $10 billion.