As year ends, Trudeau’s lead over opponents collapses

After a series of gaffes, unpopular decisions and a new perception that the government is out-of-touch, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada has recorded his lowest approval rating since taking office, findings by Forum Research suggest.

Trudeau’s party, the centrist Liberals, have tanked from the last poll taken in early November when it recorded a sizable 51% support across Canada – a lead over their nearest challengers, the Conservative Party, of 23 points.

In Trudeau’s immediate honeymoon period following his election in October 2015, Forum Research found the Liberals’ lead to be even larger – 30 points.

The most recent poll taken on the 7th of December finds the Liberal lead has shrunk back to 8 points, about the same lead it held on election night, signifying the honeymoon period may have drawn to a timely close.

It’s the first single-digit lead for the Liberal Party since November of 2015.

In the same time the Liberals have scaled back to 42%, the leaderless Conservative Party has risen above its election night tally to 34%. The centre-left New Democratic Party is on 12%, the Green Party is on 6% and the Quebec nationalist party Bloc Québécois racks up 5%.

A poll by EKOS late last month, which also predicted a large drop for the Liberals, found the Conservatives had the lead in the province of Alberta – an area long considered a centre-right stomping ground, with former thrice-elected Prime Minister Stephen Harper holding his seat there. The Liberals continued to lead in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and in the Atlantic provinces.

The poll also showed the Conservatives had re-gained the lead in the swing-province of Manitoba, which voted Liberal in 2015.

Trudeau’s party also led among men by 38% to 35% and women by a much larger 44% to 27%. They also lead among every age group, aside from 35-49. Both parties had consistent numbers across education levels, aside from university education where the Liberals still enjoy a large lead.

Trudeau was widely criticised following the death of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, when the Prime Minister described him as “a remarkable leader” and a “larger than life leader who served his people” before referring to the strong relationship Castro enjoyed with Trudeau’s father, the former Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau. Conservative MP Maxime Bernier described the comments as “repugnant” while Florida senator and former presidential candidate Marco Rubio also weighed in calling Trudeau “embarrassing”.

The Liberal government has also faced backlash from its environmentalist electorate and first nations groups following Trudeau’s approval for the controversial Kinder Morgan pipeline which will connect the Albert oil sands with the Pacific Coast.

The Conservative Party has been led by its interim leader, the Alberta MP Rona Ambrose, for over a year and since the party lost office under Stephen Harper.

The party traditionally sits on the centre-right, supporting a mix of fiscal conservative policies and economic liberalism. However, the leadership contest has exposed ideologies ranging from Red Toryism (a Canadian term defining moderates on the centre-right) to right-wing populism and right-libertarianism following a stand-out year for ‘alt-right’ political movements around the globe.

A range of candidates have expressed a wish to put the sword to Canada’s public broadcaster, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) which services millions of Canadians through television, radio and online platforms.

In total, Conservative members will have 14 candidates to choose from when they select their new leader in May. Although he is yet to declare his hand, outsider candidate Kevin O’Leary, also known as ‘Mr. Wonderful’ is the favourite, according to polls.  O’Leary has never held political office, holding careers in business and television. The Montreal native represents a familiar global trend to reject career politicians.

Among candidates who have declared, the Ontario MP Kellie Leitch rates the highest along with the rural Quebecer Maxime Bernier.

If an election were held today in Canada the Liberal Party would be returned to office with an increased vote share – mainly due to considerably smaller support for the New Democratic Party, with whom the Liberals share a common voter base. However, the Conservative Party would also rise, in key areas too. With the Liberal lead falling 20 points since September, the trend is uncertain for Trudeau heading into 2017.

Next year will present new challenges for Canada’s Prime Minister too, namely building and maintaining a working relationship with President Donald Trump. In the same Forum Research poll, 64% of Canadians expressed disapproval with the new President, compared to just 4% for Barack Obama. Nationally, support for Donald Trump is at 30%, with a majority of Conservative Party supporters backing him (57%). However, 55% of Canadians believe it is important Trudeau strengthens the Canadian-American relationship under President Trump, while 40% say he should keep his distance.

The next Canadian election will be held in 2019.
Bennett Morgan, Capital HardTalk

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