COMMENTARY: Canada in the age of COVID-19 — is this our new ‘normal’?

It has been one month since the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a global pandemic. Since then, Canadians have gone from their version of normal to whatever historians will call today.

Will they call it a “new normal”? It’s hard to say. What we do know is the events of the last month have had a massive impact on the mindset of Canadians. Ipsos has catalogued some of the changes in a series of polls released with Global News this week.

What have we learned from our polling?

First off, for most Canadians COVID-19 is primarily an economic disease. Most of us don’t believe we will get the virus. We don’t even know someone who has it. But many of us (36 per cent in our survey) have had our jobs and incomes massively disrupted.

Worry about family job loss is the highest Ipsos has recorded in 30 years and 60 per cent of us are even worried about paying our monthly bills. What this means is that when we see reports about climbing infection rates, we aren’t hearing that we need to be worried about getting infected. We’re hearing we won’t be going back to work this week.

The need to get back to work is what’s behind the strong support for government action to stop the spread of COVID-19. Canadians are now prepared to accept government interventions that a month ago would have been unthinkable. We tried to find the limit to government action in our polling and were unsuccessful.

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In step with the mood of Canadians, our governments have been moving aggressively and, as a result, all of Canada’s political leaders are experiencing career-high scores in public approval. Premier François Legault’s approval rating in Quebec is 96 per cent. That’s the highest approval rating I’ve seen for any Canadian politician in my 30-year career.

How do we come out of the COVID-19 deep freeze? That’s what our polling will turn to next. What signals will Canadians be looking for to believe it’s safe to return to their normal activities? Will it be the opinions of experts and public officials? Will it be what we see with our own eyes in our neighbourhoods? Will the need for social interaction pull us back into the world regardless of what we’re told to do — especially as the summer weather presents an irresistible lure to go outside?

The cracks will start to show, especially among those who are feeling the loneliest and the least physically imperilled by the disease.

Our polling will also look at what changes in COVID behaviour will stick with us for the longer term. Will we keep washing our hands? Will we have a new sense of what it means to be social? Will our new relationships with technology or expanded retail options continue? Will close talkers disappear? (I certainly hope so.)

The truth is, nobody knows about any of this. What I do know is Global News and Ipsos will continue to track how the thinking of Canadians is evolving through this crisis. And what we learn, we will share with you.

Darrell Bricker is CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs. 

Exclusive Global News Ipsos polls are protected by copyright. The information and/or data may only be rebroadcast or republished with full and proper credit and attribution to “Global News Ipsos.”

This Ipsos poll on behalf of Global News was an online survey of 1,006 Canadians conducted between April 3 and 7. The results were weighted to better reflect the composition of the adult Canadian population, according to census data. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is considered accurate to within plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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