|OTTAWA - The cautious, but supportive reaction of the federal government to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States is backed by more than half of Canadians, a new poll indicates.The Toronto Star/La Presse/CBC poll also found widespread support of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's handling of the crisis. While 42 per cent of respondents said Chrétien was handling the crisis well, 30 per cent gave him an average rating and 27 per cent rated his response as poor. Canadians, however, were far more supportive of the reaction of U.S. President George W. Bush, with only 12 per cent rating his reaction as poor. Sixty-eight per cent said the response of the American president has been good and 19 per cent said it was average, lower than the approval ratings Bush wins at home, but still a remarkable figure for a foreign leader, said pollster Frank Graves. Over-all, 52 per cent of those polled said they thought the Chrétien government was "moving in the right direction" while only 17 per cent said it was headed in the wrong direction. Some 29 per cent answered "neither" when asked: "All things considered, would you say the government of Canada is moving in the right direction or the wrong direction in handling the terrorist crisis?'' More women (55 per cent) than men (48 per cent) told EKOS they thought the federal government was moving in the right direction in its handling of the terrorist crisis. "The government, to this point in time, is reading the public mood relatively well," Graves said. "But there are some dramatic potential pitfalls and concerns ahead, in the medium- and long-term.'' As the short-term shock from the attacks fades, Graves said, the Chrétien government will have to deal with a fading sense of national interest, a debate looming over multiculturalism versus
a rising tide of parochialism and the tradeoffs between increased security and freedoms citizens expect. EKOS also asked Canadians to rate the performances of Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley and Opposition Leader Stockwell Day. Manley's performance was judged good by 36 per cent and poor by only 12 per cent, but EKOS found a significant number of respondents were still unfamiliar with the minister. Day received a good rating from only 11 per cent of respondents and was given a poor grade by 32 per cent. Even among Canadian Alliance supporters, Day could not garner a 50 per cent approval rating. That, however, may reflect an overarching view that he has become a spent force with the Canadian public - not necessarily his House of Commons performance, Graves said. "Everything is seen through that prism when people are asked about him.'' Nationally, Chrétien's response has merely solidified his party's huge lead in voter preference. EKOS found Liberal support to be 55 per cent of decided voters. Some 65 per cent of Ontario voters backed the Liberals. The Progressive Conservatives stood second nationally with 15 per cent of decided voters, the Canadian Alliance had 12 per cent and the New Democrats and Bloc Québécois had 8 per cent each.