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Canadians Believe Government Has Done A Fair Job Handling H1N1: Poll

Opposition politicians and the media may be hammering governments for their handling of the H1N1 situation, but a new poll suggests Canadians themselves feel their governments are doing an OK job.

The media’s coverage of H1N1 on the other hand – well, that doesn’t earn much admiration.

The latest Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey found that overall, most respondents see all three levels of government as having done at least a fair job of preparing for, and dealing with, the H1N1 flu virus.

Almost one-quarter (22 to 24 per cent) of those surveyed said each level of government has done a good job dealing with swine flu, while another third or more (33 to 37 per cent) describe their performance as at least fair.

However, about one-third of respondents graded the response of each level of government – municipal, provincial or territorial, and federal – as poor.

“Fundamentally, I can understand why 22 per cent to 24 per cent saying you’ve done a good job on something isn’t really your best day,” said Doug Anderson, senior vice-president of Harris-Decima.

“However, the complexity of the task and the fact that nothing like this has really ever been done, to me that says it’s more like a passing grade,” Anderson said from Ottawa. “But at the same time, I don’t see this as collective criticism.”

Still, not every government escaped the displeasure of its electorate.

Albertans were highly critical of the province’s handling of the pandemic, with 61 per cent of respondents rating the performance as poor, the poll shows.

“The most significant (issue), I would say, was there was a controversy over the fact that the Calgary Flames hockey players and their families had been given the vaccine while others were finding it more difficult to get,” said Anderson, noting that the anger was intensified when the province subsequently ran out of vaccine.

Opinions about the handling of swine flu were similar across the country and for all three levels of government, he said. “But in Alberta, they’re strikingly different.”

The survey of 1,000 people – considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20 – also found that Canadians aged 18 to 34 are more impressed with governments’ performance than those 50 and older. The poll was conducted Nov. 5 through Nov. 8.

“The young people are a little more inclined to say the federal government, for example, has done a good job – 34 per cent of them describe it that way,” said Anderson. In contrast, 21 per cent in the 50-plus group felt the federal government had done a good job.

He pointed out, however, that people as they age tend to be somewhat more critical of government, no matter the issue, and that could have influenced the numbers.

“It may also be that younger Canadians have noticed that this particular virus has some unique impacts on young Canadians, and therefore they are maybe a little more appreciative since some of the efforts might target them a little bit.”

When it comes to media coverage, 65 per cent of Canadians surveyed said news organizations had overreacted to H1N1 influenza.

“That says to me that Canadians are leaning pretty heavily towards saying there’s been a bit more hype about this than they might have found preferable,” said Anderson, adding that the age, level of education and sex of respondents made little difference.

That view was seen in all regions and demographic groups, though when respondents were broken down by voting intentions, supporters of the Conservatives were more likely to feel the media had overreacted than those of the Liberal, New Democratic or Green parties.

Anderson said Canadians’ concern over swine flu is not on the upswing, as it was in a poll done a week earlier, and might even be waning slightly.

Acceptance of the vaccine has also surged in the last month or so, with 56 per cent of respondents saying they have or will get the shot, compared to 35 per cent in early October.