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Media Bites:The Political Popularity Contest Is Won in the Polls

01/16/2014 12:14 EST | Updated 03/18/2014 05:59 EDT

What does it say about Canada that two of the most popular things in the country right now are the Quebec Charter of Values and Rob Ford?

That goes against the conventional wisdom, I know. We're continuously told these things are, in fact, grossly unpopular, illegitimate, a national embarrassment, etc. But if the polls are to be believed, both actually enjoy a larger, stabler base of loyalists than many of the people doing the loudest scolding. Certainly Canada's widely-loathed political class would be wise to get off their high horse and start looking for pointers.

According to recent opinion surveys, Quebec's proposed ban on "ostentatious" religious costume in the workplace enjoys the backing of 48 per cent of Quebeckers (and 57 per cent of Francophones), while Mayor Ford's approval rating, post-ice storm, has climbed to 47 per cent (not that it was ever particularly low to begin with).

These less-than-a-majority figures may not seem terribly impressive until you view them in the context of the enormously bitter ratings Canadians are giving everything else at the moment. An Angus Reid survey released the other day, for example, noted that only two of Canada's ten premiers have net positive approval ratings (the perennially popular Brad Wall of Saskatchewan, and freshly-elected Stephen McNeil of Nova Scotia), while the leaders of our four largest provinces, Premiers Clark, Wynne, Marois, and Redford, only command the support of 42, 35, 32, and 31 per cent of their voters, respectively. The premiers of Manitoba and Newfoundland remain mired in the mid-twenties.

The federal scene isn't much jollier. No one really likes Prime Minister Harper all that much (only 26 per cent approved of his conduct in 2013, says Nanos) but neither are they particularly hot on any of his rivals. According to the most recent Nanos survey of the federal party bosses, the most popular candidate for prime minister of Canada at the moment is Justin Trudeau  --  with a whopping 29 per cent. In fairness, J-Tru the man has always been considerably less liked than the party he leads  --  though not by much. Ipsos has "Canada's most popular party" commanding the support of 35 per cent of us.

But to fully appreciate just how disenfranchised Canadians are with their political options you have to look outside our borders. President Hollande of France, for instance, is currently making headlines for earning the lowest approval rating in French history  --  26 per cent. That's basically a typical Tuesday for the NDP, and we're supposed to consider them a government-in-waiting. A mere four more points and he'd be where Jack Layton was in the 2011 election, and we're building statues to that guy.

President Obama, meanwhile, has a record-low approval of his own, a number so offensive and unprecedented some are declaring it downright Nixonian: 43 per cent. Horrors. Similarly, while there are some very unpopular governors in the U.S., Americans overall are vastly more satisfied with the folks running their states than Canadians are with the people running their provinces. Jerry Brown and Andrew Cuomo, the guys in charge of California and New York, are both in the 60 per cent range, while even goofy ol' Rick Perry in Texas, who most agree has overstayed his welcome, still hovers around 45 per cent.

So what's the lesson to be learned from all this? I'd boil it down to a single word: authenticity.

You can hate Rob Ford for being a loutish embarrassment to his city, and rightly so, but at the same time it's hard to deny the man possesses some inner core of integrity  --  not on the drug stuff, of course  --  but in terms of saying what he thinks and fighting for what he believes. Indeed, when you separate his "agenda" from the man, you get even higher favourability numbers, suggesting his unfashionably blunt goals of lowering taxes and shrinking government continue to resonate quite well against a backdrop of mushily moderate (and therefore increasingly interchangeable) federal and provincial politicians who aspire to little and accomplish even less.

The same could be said of Quebec's charter of values. While no one should underestimate the degree to which this thing is being propped up by some of the ugliest undersides of French-Canadian culture --bigoted ethno-chauvinists on the right and radical feminists and atheists on the left -- it's also true that the charter represents at least some kinda response to Canada's wildly unpopular status quo of unchecked immigration, anything-goes multiculturalism, and back-breaking "accommodation."

A Forum survey last year found 73 per cent of Canadians favouring limits on immigration and 62 per cent backing the proposition that the foreign-born should "abandon their native cultural values" when they clash with those of the Canadian mainstream. Premier Marois' charter is a solution of sorts to that dissatisfaction, and for all its obvious flaws, it's still probably closer to mainstream opinion than holding secret press conferences to let ethnic lobbyists debate how to best hike Canada's record-high immigration rates even higher, which is what the Prime Minister's been doing lately.

Both Ford and Marois are likely to face elections this year, and one can only imagine the convulsions of horror and embarrassment that will consume Canada's elite should either manage to eke out a second term. But alas, when you actually bother getting to know a country and its people, victories are what you sometimes get.

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