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The furor over truck convoys helped bring down Erin O’Toole as Conservative leader and polls suggest Justin Trudeau’s popularity also took a hit

A protester carries a Canadian flag past police in downtown Ottawa on Feb. 19, the weekend when authorities cleared the area around Parliament Hill.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Nik Nanos is the chief data scientist at Nanos Research, a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington and the official pollster for The Globe and Mail and CTV News.

The self-described “freedom convoy” that held Ottawa hostage for three weeks is no more, but the list of political casualties continues to mount.

If the protesters had Justin Trudeau in their sights, the reality is that the first political victim was Erin O’Toole, the former leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. His position on the convoy protest was not friendly enough for some members of his caucus, so he was unceremoniously turfed. Coincidentally, the week they got rid of Mr. O’Toole, the Conservative numbers were looking good – marginally ahead of the Liberals but, more importantly, the improved support for the New Democrats was creating the vote-splitting environment that hurts the Liberals.

Former Conservative leader Erin O'Toole.Blair Gable/Reuters

While protesters failed to remove Mr. Trudeau from power, research suggests that his brand has taken a hit. There has been no political dividend for the Prime Minister when it comes to the trucker-convoy protest, according to research by Nanos for The Globe and Mail.

One would think that when two thirds of Canadians are good with the government’s introduction of the Emergencies Act (46 per cent support, 17 per cent somewhat support), and with the freezing of bank accounts of protest organizers (53 per cent support, 12 per cent somewhat support), that there might be some sort of political bounce for the Prime Minister. But in reality, Canadians were twice as likely to say that Mr. Trudeau’s handling of the protest worsened (47 per cent) rather than improved (20 per cent) their impression of him as Prime Minister.

THOUGHTS ON THE FEDERAL

RESPONSE TO THE PROTESTS

Support

Somewhat

support

Unsure

Somewhat

oppose

Oppose

Trudeau government introducing and

passing the Emergencies Act

46%

17

5

31

NDP for voting in favour of the Emergencies Act

50%

14

6

29

Conservatives for voting

against the Emergencies Act

27%

8

11

53

Freezing the bank accounts and

credit cards of protest organizers

53%

12

6

28

Note: Numbers may not add up to 100 because of rounding.

THOUGHTS ON THE FEDERAL

RESPONSE TO THE PROTESTS

Support

Somewhat

support

Unsure

Somewhat

oppose

Oppose

Trudeau government introducing and

passing the Emergencies Act

46%

17

5

31

NDP for voting in favour of the Emergencies Act

50%

14

6

29

Conservatives for voting

against the Emergencies Act

27%

8

11

53

Freezing the bank accounts and

credit cards of protest organizers

53%

12

6

28

Note: Numbers may not add up to 100 because of rounding.

THOUGHTS ON THE FEDERAL RESPONSE TO THE PROTESTS

Support

Somewhat support

Unsure

Somewhat oppose

Oppose

Trudeau government introducing and passing the Emergencies Act

46%

17

5

31

NDP for voting in favour of the Emergencies Act

50%

14

6

29

Conservatives for voting against the Emergencies Act

27%

8

11

53

Freezing the bank accounts and credit cards of protest organizers

53%

12

6

28

Note: Numbers may not add up to 100 because of rounding.

THOUGHTS ON HOW THE CONVOY

PROTESTS WERE HANDLED

How Trudeau’s handling of the protests

changed impressions of the Prime Minister

Improved

20%

No impact

31

Worsened

47

Unsure

2

Necessity of invoking the Emergencies Act

Necessary

41%

Somewhat necessary

21

Unsure

1

Somewhat not necessary

6

Not necessary

32

Effectiveness of convoy protests

Effective

12%

Somewhat effective

20

Unsure

2

Somewhat not effective

15

Not effective

51

Balance of media coverage of protests

Balanced

42%

Somewhat balanced

21

Unsure

5

Somewhat not balanced

8

Not balanced

24

Note: Numbers may not add up to 100 because of rounding.

THOUGHTS ON HOW THE CONVOY

PROTESTS WERE HANDLED

How Trudeau’s handling of the protests

changed impressions of the Prime Minister

Improved

20%

No impact

31

Worsened

47

Unsure

2

Necessity of invoking the Emergencies Act

Necessary

41%

Somewhat necessary

21

Unsure

1

Somewhat not necessary

6

Not necessary

32

Effectiveness of convoy protests

Effective

12%

Somewhat effective

20

Unsure

2

Somewhat not effective

15

Not effective

51

Balance of media coverage of protests

Balanced

42%

Somewhat balanced

21

Unsure

5

Somewhat not balanced

8

Not balanced

24

Note: Numbers may not add up to 100 because of rounding.

THOUGHTS ON HOW THE CONVOY PROTESTS WERE HANDLED

How Trudeau’s handling of the protests

changed impressions of the Prime Minister

Necessity of invoking the Emergencies Act

Necessary

41%

Improved

20%

Somewhat necessary

21

No impact

31

Unsure

1

Worsened

47

Somewhat not necessary

6

Unsure

2

Not necessary

32

Effectiveness of convoy protests

Balance of media coverage of protests

Effective

Balanced

12%

42%

Somewhat effective

Somewhat balanced

20

21

Unsure

Unsure

2

5

Somewhat not effective

Somewhat not balanced

15

8

Not effective

Not balanced

51

24

Note: Numbers may not add up to 100 because of rounding.

No one expected Mr. Trudeau to agree with the protesters. However, his opening gambit of diminishing the views of the protests, even if they represent a minority of Canadians, did not bode well for a timely settlement of the protest. The demeanour and tone of the Prime Minister throughout the protest undermined the positive impact of the government’s actions.

The truckers’ protest was itself another casualty. According to a Nanos survey for CTV News, people were more likely to believe the protest was not effective (51 per cent) or somewhat not effective (15 per cent) at getting governments to reconsider various COVID-19 restrictions.

We should be more worried about the longer-term casualties.

At the top of the list is the Canada-U.S. trade relationship. Closing the Ambassador Bridge border crossing in Windsor and Detroit was a fundamental mistake on the part of the protesters. It’s unlikely that many Canadians would care about the inconvenience of a protest in the national capital. Disrupting the relationship with our most important trading partner is another story.

The border blockade could not have come at a worse time, as Americans become more inward looking and focused on their supply chain resilience. The blocking of the bridge that carries about $400-million a day in goods certainly caught the attention of Americans – Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Dingell of Michigan warned that if the closings continued for “an extended period of time, it is going to make all of us use this as further evidence that we shouldn’t be reliant on another country.” One shouldn’t be surprised that some of the loudest cheers during this year’s State of the Union address were when Joe Biden said, “Instead of relying on foreign supply chains, let’s make it in America.” The blockade of the Ambassador Bridge is political ammunition for those in the Biden administration that fervently support a Buy American policy.

A protester stands in front of police officers in Windsor, Ont., on Feb. 12, amid the standoff with convoy supporters who had blockaded the bridge to Detroit.Carlos Osorio/Reuters

Setting aside how successful or unsuccessful the convoy protest ultimately was, it will spawn copycat demonstrations. (Indeed, similar demonstrations are already being organized in the United States.) When asked about the possibility of similar protests, only one in five Canadians thought they would be unlikely (7 per cent) or somewhat unlikely (12 per cent) in the future, with more than three in four Canadians believing that these actions will continue as a new form of political protest in Canada.

Finally, when surveyed about the media coverage, about four in 10 Canadians (42 per cent) thought the coverage was balanced, while another 21 per cent thought it was somewhat balanced. Sounds like a decent score, right? Unfortunately, about one-third of Canadians thought the coverage was not balanced (24 per cent) or somewhat not balanced (8 per cent). The kicker here is that the proportion of Canadians who had a dim view of the coverage is high among people under the age of 35 (44 per cent not balanced or somewhat not balanced) compared with Canadians older than 55 (23 per cent not balanced or somewhat not balanced).

So let me list the casualties thus far: Erin O’Toole; Justin Trudeau; the protesters; our relationship with the United States; the media.

Brace yourself for more political casualties as the investigation into the police response and what intelligence agencies knew, or did not know, proceeds. I’m confident the list will only grow longer.


About the data

Research was conducted for The Globe and Mail and CTV News by Nanos Research by means of a RDD dual frame hybrid telephone and online random survey conducted on February 23rd to 24th, 2022. The research of 1032 respondents is accurate 3.1 percentage points plus or minus, 19 times out of 20. More methodological details and the reports are at www.nanos.co.


After the convoys: More from The Globe and Mail

The Decibel

Erin O’Toole is out as Conservative leader, but who will take his place? Chief political writer Campbell Clark explains who the early favourites are. Subscribe for more episodes.

Opinion

Robyn Urback: Where does the anger go, now that the trucks are gone?

Scott Reid: Canada’s future elections risk mirroring the culture-war rhetoric of the United States

Andrew Coyne: How did conservatives come to be so attracted to extremism?

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