Ensight Post-Election Research Update: A Look Back, One Year In

Will Stewart
Editor’s Note: This week, Ensight is publishing a series of original content articles looking back on the Liberal government’s first year in power and ahead to the rest of its mandate.

Previously, Ensight Senior Counsel and lifetime member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery Don Newman looked back upon the path Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has blazed for his party and surveys the road ahead. Click here to read that article.

 

By Will Stewart

One year ago as Canadians were busy making their way to the polls, Ensight’s research team was preparing to head out on the road to conduct Canada’s Only Genuine Exit Poll.

After tracking the evolution of issues over the course of the election campaign, Ensight’s research team conducted qualitative research through 10 focus group sessions in Vancouver, Calgary, Quebec City, Halifax, and Toronto. Those sessions were augmented by online focus groups of young Canadians aged 18 to 29 years.

Once the votes had been counted, we sought out the reasons behind why Canadians voted for change in the form of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party, what they expected from their new government, and how those choices and expectations would drive the future of governance and political life in Canada.

We found plenty of answers. Here is how they look one year later.

1)     We said that it would be “Back to the Future” which is exactly what we have seen.  Almost every announcement, internationally and domestically, has focused on how Canada is back to being an international leader, a collaborator, a peacekeeper.  The government seems more guided by “We are not Harper” than anything else.  The “Canadian Way” of consultation and leading from the middle is evident in every department.

2)     Not a defeat of the Conservative Party, but a defeat of Harper.  We have now seen that we were correct in that finding as well.  Most of Harper’s top names are gone and forgotten, most recently with the resignation of Jason Kenney to return home to Alberta.  While the Liberals are riding high in the polls, the Conservatives are still strong, despite not having a permanent leader which shows that the party’s support is still there. Contrast that with the NDP, who in the eyes of the public are boarding on irrelevant.

3)     A New Collaborative Tone on the world stage.  We have seen this prediction come true in Paris on climate talks all the way to the UN meetings and the commentary from Trudeau of wanting a seat on the Security Council.  Arms deals to the Middle East conflict zones do dog the government, but the defence strategy of peacekeeping “somewhere” is evidence that they continue to assert their brand of Canada in their own way.

4)     Election of the government on values and vision, not polices.  This has become very true.  We predicted that voters would not rebel against the government for changing their policies as long as they were true to this new vision of Canada.  The Liberals have moved away from their platform promises – from the size of the deficits (promised $10B a year, brought in $30B a year), environmental targets (from Harper’s being “dangerous” to adopting Harper’s target) but yet the government is still enjoying unprecedented support in public opinion polls.

5)     Canadians preferred a “go-slow” approach which is exactly what we have seen. Now one year into his mandate, Trudeau has yet to deliver on many of his promises, opting instead to launch consultation processes for most of them. As the results of those consultations start to come it, Trudeau will face new challenges on plotting and taking a course which will not always be popular with those who invested in the discussions when they do not see their work and recommendations reflected.

6)     More open government. This one is harder to declare victory on. On one hand, the government has taken more lobbyist meetings, given more time for consultations, and is projecting an open government mindset. However, the Trudeau Liberals have also begun to resort to time allocation or closure motions to limit debate in the House of Commons, have seen the Statistics Canada chief resign over political interference, have publicly declared no referendum for electoral system changes, and have an even more centralized staffing model than even Harper ever achieved.

7)     Canadians willing to accept modest deficits if there is a plan to get out of them. We don’t have enough data on this yet. When Trudeau announced his bigger than promised deficit, many were still in their honeymoon period with him; and many still are today. The fall economic update may shed some light on the financial situation which will not likely impact public opinion polls until closer to Christmas.

8)     Environmental issues are important. We found that voters felt that climate change was ignored by Harper and they wanted the new government to do something about it. Now the government has officially adopted the Harper policies on GHG reduction.  While it has not hurt them in the polls yet, we believe that environmental policies will be an issue for Trudeau, but he has more positive brand attributes on this file than Harper so he may be able to place it on the backburner without an impact on votes.

9)     Pipelines, indigenous peoples, TPP – On all these issues we predicted that Trudeau would have to do something.  And we still believe it.  But not much of substance has taken place yet.  The question that is not answered is will voters begin to voice their concerns on these issues or does Trudeau get a pass.

Will Stewart is an Ensight Principal. He has had extensive campaign experience in leadership roles and frequently appears on TV, radio, and invited to speak about campaign strategy and the role of social media in modern campaigns.