05/07/2014 04:07 pm ET Updated Jul 07, 2014

Political Traction: Temporary Foreign Workers Program Continues to Catch Fire

Last week, the House of Commons returned from its recess. Having spent weeks attacking the government prior to the break over its proposed Fair Elections Act (or, as its critics call it, the Unfair Elections Act), opposition parties course-corrected their strategy and returned focused on an issue that resonates with Canadians and has the potential to cut at the government's core economic brand: the Temporary Foreign Workers Program.

With 43 percent Traction, the program was the leading Ottawa issue--largely the result of persistent questioning by opposition members during Question Period.

The NDP and Liberal parties were making up for lost time. Having heard news weeks ago that temporary foreign workers were displacing Canadians in the food service industry, Canadians tuned into the issue well before opposition MPs had the opportunity to grill the government last week. While Canadian Traction has tapered from a high of 40 percent to 15 percent last week, the reduction is the consequence of interest in other stories, not satisfaction that the issue has been resolved.

In fact, the Temporary Foreign Workers Program was the leading conversation out west, particularly in Alberta, where labour shortages are an economic reality and Canadians are more familiar with the need of the program.

The issue will continue to catch fire because of its unpredictability; ongoing developments and revelations are keeping the issue alive.

What does that mean for the government and Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment and Social Development? Mr. Kenney needs to quickly and effectively get his arms around the issue. While Traction data shows Canadians' concerns aren't yet translating to reputational damage for the government, with the issue still catching fire, Mr. Kenney could very quickly find himself responding to questions about the government's management of his jobs dossier. Play with fire and you could find yourself burned.

While Mr. Kenney still has time to fix his issue, Rob Ford appears to have exhausted Canadians' patience. Last week, Rob and Doug Ford announced the former had push the pause button on his election campaign. As far has Canadians are concerned, Rob Ford pushed the ejection button.

With 47 percent Traction, Canadians are clearly tuning in. While Ford Nation will always stick with their man through thick and thin, the rest of Canada is saying enough, this is beyond what we can tolerate. It's not that last week brought new, unknown developments--saying Rob Ford behaved poorly is like saying the sky is blue. It's that Ford had said he would clean up his act; Canadians, once willing to give Rob Ford the benefit of the doubt, aren't willing to give Toronto's mayor any more chances.

About Political Traction

Political Traction presents a unique analysis of what Canadians are talking about and the impact that has on politics and policy-making in Ottawa.

Each week, Jaime Watt joins Evan Solomon, host of CBC's flagship public affairs programme Power and Politics, to take a deep look at the common threads and inconsistencies between the conversation politicians, journalists and pundits are having in Ottawa and those that Canadians are having across the country.

Using a proprietary, point-based methodology, Navigator tracks and weighs conversations on public affairs topics and builds a weekly profile of what is being talked about, where it is being talked about, and who is talking about it.

For Ottawa, Navigator identifies the issues most talked about by parliamentarians and national editorialists, and on political talk show programs. For Canada, Navigator captures Canadians' conversations on blogs, in online forums, on mainstream news comment boards and on Twitter. Navigator uses this data to calculate the share of voice for the top issues, how opinion is divided and which voices are driving the conversation in Ottawa and across the country.