Frank Graves has been tracking public opinion for a long time. In his most recent survey, he asked Canadians four broad questions: 1) Do you favour more or less immigration? 2) Should Canada focus on domestic production or international trade? 3) Should we build our economy on carbon based energy or green energy? and 4) Do you favour more or less government?
In only one of these four areas do Canadians appear to support Harper government policy. We are not as welcoming of immigrants as we used to be. But, interestingly, on the question of active or laissez faire government, Canadians and Conservatives are on different sides of the fence. Graves writes:
The results are very interesting and fit in with our trends analysis which suggests that there is growing skepticism to the notion that a minimal state and lower taxes would leave the invisible hand of the market to produce a better economy for all. The invisible hand seems to be offering a visible middle finger to frustrated citizens who have tired of these promises of prosperity while their situations have stagnated or declined. This has not produced an appetite for ‘big’ government but it has produced a clear conviction that the state should have more – and not less – of a role in designing and delivering a better future. And once again, it is notable that this consensus does not appear to be congenial with the core political philosophy of the government of the day.
What is even more interesting is how closely the numbers track the results of the last election:
It is therefore perhaps not surprising that in our most recent poll, support for a smaller government almost perfectly reflects support for the current government. When asked whether they believe a more active government or a less active government would lead to a better future 25 years from now, just one-quarter of Canadians (26 per cent) put their faith in a smaller government (this compares to 28 per cent who say they would vote for the Conservative Party in a future election). By corollary, 70 per cent would like to see a more active government, compared to 72 per cent who would vote for another party.
But what is most intriguing of all is the attitude of the next generation to government in general:
One notable finding, which mirrors recent European research, is that the youngest citizenry are more muted in their support for active government. The newest cohorts may be the most progressive ever in terms of social values, but they are more individualistic and less receptive to the notion that the state can solve their problems. Whether this is a product of growing up in an era of retrenchment and austerity, which offers little for them, or something deeper, it merits further investigation.
It's pretty clear that the Harper government does not represent most Canadians. But it is equally clear that the next generation holds the balance of power. How they respond in the next election will determine Canada's future.