Trudeau’s Liberals Gain Momentum: Are Canadians Ready for Change?

Since the 2011 federal election Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have gained in intended vote from 19% to 38% and now lead Stephen Harper’s Conservatives (31%) by 7 points.

Trudeau’s 19 point gain comes from both the Conservatives (down 9 points) and the NDP (24%) down 7 points since the 2011 election.

If the magic number for a majority is 40% the Liberals under Trudeau are in striking distance but does the Liberal rise represent a shift in Canadian’s expectations of government? Do we want the Liberals back in power because we have come to the realization that there is value in government? Do we believe that the problems we face, be they, declining health services, income inequality, global warming or an economy that is slow to create jobs across the country will be solved by a more active government? Or are we merely tired of the old and looking for a new style of leader and government?

If the numbers hold – and it is “if” because we know that campaigns matter and a year can be a lifetime in Canadian politics – the Liberals may win and may well have a mandate to govern that is very similar to that of the last ten years.

When Canadians are asked if they agree with the statement “Governments must spend within their means even if that requires cutting programs and services”, 64% of Canadians agree (27% strongly agree while only 7% strongly disagree). This is virtually unchanged since 2011 so the Liberal lift looks more like the result of “Trudeaumania 2” rather than a shift in core attitudes and expectations of government.

To be fair we flipped the question and asked if Canadians agree with the statement “Governments must provide key social programs even if that means increasing taxes” and found that 49% of Canadians agree (13% strongly) up from 43% in 2011. So there has been some increased support for maintaining key programs but perceptions of the value of government remain low with 66% of Canadians agreeing (33% strongly) that “they would rather get a tax break than a new government program”.

If the Liberals do win either a minority or majority, they will likely inherit a balanced budget, a weak economy, and huge expectations that they’ll quickly address some of Canada’s most pressing issues. The problem is that we want all these issues addressed but we also want governments to live within their current means even if it results in cutting programs and introducing new taxes are certainly not on the table.

Past governments at all levels have failed to effectively communicate where and how our tax dollars are spent and the result is Canadians see very little value in “generic” government programs. However, when Canadians are asked about specific programs, say those that prevent rail accidents or ensure food and water safety we absolutely expect that governments would and should preserve those but they feel this can be done through re-allocations or by reducing wasteful spending.

Whether the next federal government is Liberal, Conservative or NDP they have to start communicating better with Canadians. Rather than running from news coverage they’ll need to embrace social media and new forms of communications that reach Canadians directly to show their successes, admit their failures, and most importantly, engage Canadians in a discussion about what government does and why it exists. If they don’t do this we’ll continue to elect governments not because we see promise in their plans for the future but simply because we are tired of the status quo.

For full results from our poll with Global News, please click here.