Six years into the Harper era, Canadians are inching inexorably into the conservative, and Conservative, columns. Right? And though not all are pleased with this incremental, rightward shift, most — the so-called silent majority — tacitly accept it.
Well, no, actually. The latest data from pollster Ipsos Reid, part of a wide-ranging examination of popular sentiment for Postmedia News and Global Television, doesn’t suggest this at all. If anything the numbers indicate Canadians today are more solidly progressive than we have ever been. Perhaps we are a more complex and mature people than the received wisdom gives us credit for. And perhaps this means that our national political leaders, across the spectrum, don’t understand or reflect our views nearly as fully or as precisely as they might.
First let’s dispense with the Big Three: Gay marriage, abortion and capital punishment. These are the files where, leading up to Stephen Harper’s first victory in 2006 and in every federal campaign since, the Conservative hidden agenda was said to primarily reside. And these are the areas where, for plainly political reasons — the fear of a nationwide progressive backlash — the majority-holding Conservatives now fear to tread.
They are wise to fear this, the data shows. On same-sex marriage, the case is open and shut. Since 2004, when gay marriage was effectively legalized by the courts, the numbers of those supporting so-called “civil marriage,” rather than full marriage rights for same-sex couples, has declined to twenty per cent, from just over thirty per cent. But the numbers of those approving full recognition of same-sex marriage have skyrocketed, to more than sixty per cent from about forty per cent. Fewer than two Canadians in ten now support a ban on gay marriage.
With respect to abortion, half the population supports abortion on demand, while an almost equal number, 45 per cent, support a woman’s right to an abortion with certain limitations — such as, for example, in the third trimester of pregnancy. Only six per cent would see abortion made illegal.
On capital punishment the data shows, intriguingly, a social-conservative blip: a clear majority of both men and women, 64 per cent and 57 per cent respectively, would welcome a return of the death penalty, officially abolished in Canada since 1976. Deeper polling is called for here but it stands to reason this reflects collective, gut-wrenching revulsion at cases involving the sexual murder of children. It’s a safe bet that if the question were refined to just those cases, approval would be higher still. But because of the intense emotion this discussion evokes, the Tories have so far steered clear.
From there the Ipsos data broadens into wells of sentiment that present major opportunities, and pitfalls, for Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats.
The first is that Canadians remain at heart idealists. On issues of commonality — between young and old, urban and rural, western and eastern, immigrants versus those born in Canada — sentiment is solidly, consistently ecumenical, belying the notion that modern politics must be a cutthroat battlefield of wedge interests. Likewise, overwhelming majorities continue to view the country’s traditional “positives” — the beauty of our landscape and wilderness, the diversity of our population, the richness of our culture — in a very favourable light. The natural landscape in particular is deemed by almost everyone — 98 per cent — to be among “Canada’s best.”
Another big area of interest is health care, where, no surprise, 80 per cent back a continuation of “not-for-profit” health care delivered by the public sector, as opposed to “for-profit,” private delivery — if those are the only choices. But intriguingly, a clear majority — 53 per cent — also support a “mixed” model, whereby the system remains public, but individuals are free to obtain treatment beyond the public system with pay-as-you-go or private insurance. Hmm. Wasn’t this what Senator Michael Kirby suggested a decade ago?
A third major focus of the poll is the environment. In question after question, it emerges that Canadians cherish the country’s landscape and natural environment, and want it protected and preserved, to a greater degree than now occurs. A clear majority — 57 per cent — disagree with the statement that “Canada is doing enough to protect the environment.” Combined with the near-universal love of Canada’s wilderness, this suggests the Harper Conservatives need to become much more active about environmental protection, or risk being branded as the party that doesn’t care.
Taken in its entirety, this poll paints a portrait of a country that remains stubbornly, solidly progressive, with room for nuance in important areas, and a high degree of flux.
The poll does not even remotely suggest a country that has been pushed rightward, or is being pushed rightward, incrementally or otherwise, by Conservative rule. Nor does it suggest in any way that the Conservatives have a lock on the title of Canada’s new, “natural governing party.” If anything it suggests the Harper government has gotten offside with the majority in some important policy areas, especially with respect to environmental protection.
Based on this survey, no one has a lock on 2015. It’s wide open.
Canada isn’t sliding into the arms of the Conservative Party | canada.com