Published April 14, 2020
Canadians want stricter federal measures to combat COVID-19 but oppose cell phone tracking
On 20 March 2020, Vox Pop Labs launched the initial wave of its COVID-19 Monitor—a rolling public opinion survey on reactions to the coronavirus pandemic and policy responses thereto. Over multiple weeks, random samples of Canadians will be drawn from Vox Pop Labs’ panel. As respondents are assigned randomly to each wave, this rolling cross sectional design allows inferences over time. Initial results were released on 26 March 2020. Since then, we have fielded two additional waves of the study and collected a total of 7,381 responses. This briefing summarizes several new findings across all three waves to date.
- Three-quarters of Canadians would like the government to put in place stricter measures to prevent further transmission of COVID-19.
- 8 in 10 Canadians believe that the federal government should further restrict travel within Canada, but a third of right-leaning Canadians oppose any such travel restrictions.
- 6 in 10 Canadians support a national mandatory stay-at-home order, but half of right-leaning Canadians are averse to such a measure.
- 6 in 10 Canadians are in favour of invoking the Emergencies Act, and support is much higher among Canadian women than it is among men.
- 9 in 10 Canadians believe that Canadian businesses should be mandated by the federal government to produce the supplies needed to combat the outbreak. Support for such a measure is especially high among centre and left-leaning Canadians.
- 6 in 10 Canadians oppose government tracking of cell phone data as a pandemic response tool, with younger Canadians being the most likely to hold this view.
- Canadians are experiencing increased levels of COVID-19 related mental distress, but people who had previously self-described as having poor or only fair mental health are being acutely impacted.
Risks and measures
Since the first wave of our survey, we have included a series of questions aimed at assessing how open Canadians are to the various emergency measures that the Canadian federal government is deliberating over to fight the pandemic.
Travel restrictions within Canada
Currently, the Canadian government mandates those who have recently travelled abroad to self-isolate for a period of 14 days, and encourages everyone else with the exception of essential workers to stay at home as much as possible. Three-quarters of Canadians, however, would like the government to put in place stricter measures to prevent the virus from spreading even further. Similarly, an overwhelming majority of Canadians (80%) believe that the federal government should further restrict travel within Canada.
Despite this general consensus, an interesting ideological gap emerges, with almost a third of right-leaning respondents (32%) opposing such travel restrictions.
Most Canadians (62%) believe that non-essential workers–that is, people who do not perform essential services–should face fines or even imprisonment if they leave their homes.
It should be noted, however, that centre (71%) and left-leaning (60%) respondents are more open to the notion of a mandatory national stay-at-home order. In contrast, 51% of right-leaning respondents are averse to such a measure. This ideological gap is especially evident among those who chose “Strongly disagree.”
In the province of Ontario, disobeying the social distancing measures under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act could cost you $100,000 in fines and one year in jail. Since social distancing directives came into effect, the Toronto Police has already issued 2,500 cautions and 88 tickets to non-complying residents. Ontario Premier Doug Ford has warned that a mandatory stay-at-home order could be looming if public health officials recommended it.
More than half of Canadians (56%) believe that the current crisis warrants invoking the Emergencies Act.
Female respondents (62%) are much more likely than male respondents (51%) to hold this view. Invoking the Act would grant “extraordinary powers” to the federal government, such as:
- Regulating or prohibiting travel within any area within the country;
- Evacuating people and removing or requisitioning personal property;
- Directing any person to render essential services they are qualified to provide;
- Regulating the distribution of essential goods and resources;
- Making emergency payments and compensating those who experience loss as a result of actions taken under the Act; and
- Imposing fines between $500 and $5,000 or jail time between six months and five years, for contravening any order or rule set under the Act.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has maintained that the Liberals are looking at ways to enact certain security and governance measures without having to bring the country under a state of emergency. The last time that these federal emergency powers were invoked was during the 1970 FLQ October Crisis.
Compared to any other question in our survey, the question on whether or not to invoke the Emergencies Act was where most Canadians answered “Don’t know” (16%). This suggests that some Canadians may not know enough about what the Emergencies Act entails. Significant public education efforts will likely be necessary if the government decides to invoke this legislation.
We also asked respondents about the broader relationship between government and industry, in light of the federal government’s recent announcement that it would partner with Canadian industries to fight COVID-19. The vast majority of Canadians (86%) believe that the federal government should order Canadian businesses to produce the equipment and supplies that are urgently needed to combat the outbreak.
Once again, there is an interesting ideological gap here, whereby respondents who identify with the political left (90%), and those who identify with the centre (89%), are more supportive of Canadian companies being mandated by the federal government to manufacture much-needed supplies, like ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE). In contrast, only 72% of right-leaning respondents hold this view.
While Canadians are generally supportive of the federal government adopting stricter measures to combat COVID-19, there is notable resistance to the idea of a partnership between government and private firms to use cell phone location data for the purposes of tracking and containing the virus.
Younger respondents aged 18-34, in particular, appear to disproportionately oppose the tracking of cell phone data as a pandemic response tool.
These findings suggest that any potential data partnership, including the security and privacy concerns to which it may give rise, will need to be carefully defined and justified to the public. This wariness should also serve to caution the public-private collaborations that may already be underway, such as the federal government’s procurement of outbreak risk software BlueDot, which uses artificial and human intelligence to track the spread and impact of more than 150 infectious diseases globally.
For many of us, the COVID-19 outbreak has been stressful and challenging. Most Canadians have experienced increased levels of anxiety, fear and stress in the last 14 days; however, these feelings are felt acutely among those who already self-describe as having poor or only fair mental health.
For example, 74% of respondents, who had previously identified as having poor or fair mental health, reported an increase in anxiety in the last 14 days. In contrast, only 60% of those with good or excellent mental health gave this same answer.
The mental health gap is particularly evident in the “despair” and “loneliness” self-evaluations. Canadians with poor or fair mental health were twice more likely to report an increase in feelings of despair, compared to those with good or excellent mental health. Finally, in the loneliness self-evaluation, Canadians with poor or fair mental health (50%) once again outnumbered those with good or excellent mental health (34%).
Results are derived from a survey fielded to randomly selected respondents from Vox Pop Labs’ online panel between 20 March and 1 April 2020 (n = 7,389). Data were weighted by age, gender, education, household income, region, and partisanship in order to approximate a representative sample of the Canadian population. A second wave of the study is already in the field and Vox Pop Labs will continue fielding new waves every 72 hours in order to track changes in views across time related to COVID-19 and its associated impacts.