Canada’s COVID-19 response trumps U.S. actions, survey finds

In the early years of this century, Canadian newscasts were not particularly interested in international coverage. Aside from the standard reporting of natural disasters, there was little opportunity to see what was happening around the world. The election of Donald Trump as America’s 45th president, however, brought an increased but sometimes exaggerated focus on the United States.

The COVID-19 outbreak has changed the type of information that reaches Canadians. A global pandemic has compelled people to pay close attention to what is happening outside our borders. Late last month, Research Co. and Glacier Media found that 61% of Canadians have read, listened to or watched the news more often during the COVID-19 outbreak. These are audience levels that are usually reserved for the final weeks of domestic election campaigns.

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Entire political careers are currently being preserved or destroyed around the world based on the decisions of heads of government on this complicated file. In the case of Germany’s Angela Merkel, a retirement has been postponed. Presidents who are constitutionally limited to one term – such as Mexico’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador – will not see their chances of re-election affected. But those in parliamentary democracies and countries with presidential systems that allow incumbents to seek new terms will surely be tested.

In Canada, the level of satisfaction with the performance of the federal government has been steady over the past two months, with about two-thirds of Canadians feeling that the COVID-19 outbreak has been handled properly by Ottawa. These are striking numbers for a government that was granted a minority mandate last year with one third of the national vote.

Provincial governments have had their ups and downs, with leaders in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia establishing good rapport with the population. However, the role of comforter-in-chief has to be played by the person in charge of the national administration: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

It is too early to know if the perception of Canadians will vary as confinement continues. Still, we are constantly reminded of the number of cases and deaths outside our borders. With that in mind, Research Co. and Glacier Media asked Canadians to rate the federal government’s response in comparison with 10 other countries.

It is evident that Canadians are looking at Europe’s founding homelands with a certain sense of superiority, with 53% thinking that Canada is doing a better job handling the COVID-19 outbreak than the United Kingdom and France. Both countries have endured difficult moments, particularly the British, who went from flirting with not establishing any social distancing guidelines to seeing Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the hospital.

The views of Canadians are more nuanced when analyzing Germany, with 32% saying Canada has handled the outbreak better. A similar proportion of Canadians also feel the same way when comparing Canada to Japan (31%) and South Korea (28%). 

The numbers shift drastically when Canadians look at two European counties that have been greatly affected. Practically seven in 10 (69%) think Canada has handled the situation better than Italy, and three in five (62%) hold the same views when comparing Canada with Spain.

Two Latin American countries do not fare particularly well. Almost half of Canadians (47%) think Canada has done a better job than Brazil, where President Jair Bolsonaro has defied his own government’s social distancing guidelines and fired the health minister.

Similar numbers (44%) are observed when Canadians are asked about Mexico, where Lopez Obrador morphed the foulest aspects of leftist populism and religious fervour by claiming that amulets shielded him personally from infection.

Still, the highest level of disdain toward a government is reserved for the United States. Practically three-in-four Canadians (74%) believe Canada is doing a better job than our neighbour to the south in handling the COVID-19 outbreak. President Trump’s unhinged press briefings have not gone unnoticed by Canadians.

Extremely high proportions of women (77%) and Canadians aged 55 and over (81%) say that Canada has handled COVID-19 better than the United States.

Canadians who support the Conservative Party of Canada tend to be more sympathetic toward Republican presidents. This time around, the level of criticism toward the American government on this question reaches 69% among Tory voters. It is higher, as expected, among those who cast ballots for the Liberal Party of Canada or the New Democratic Party (NDP) last year (76% each).

Canadians have had a unique occasion to gauge how other countries are reacting, and they place their own federal government’s response in an exclusive group that includes Germany, Japan and South Korea. The clownish behaviour of leaders in Brazil and Mexico has not gone unnoticed, and neither has the distressing number of cases in Italy and Spain. But for now, the biggest sigh of relief from Canadians arrives after a quick glance at the White House. •

Mario Canseco is the president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from April 20 to April 22 among 1,000 adults in Canada. The margin of error – which measures sample variability – is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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