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Building Trust in Democracy is Needed Urgently

Bruce MacLellan

Proof Strategies is an advocate for trust. There are many reasons for how organizations can benefit from trust, including higher productivity, more innovation and stronger human relationships.

In 2023, our annual CanTrust Index research study took a deeper examination of trust in government and democracy. Our consultations to develop survey questions included academics and former public servants. It’s a robust study and the report can be downloaded at

This newest research also contributes to our leading government relations work. Our talented, multipartisan team builds bridges, relationships and trust between clients and governments.

Today, we partnered with The Walrus to host a national event on the urgent need to maintain and build trust in democracy and government. It was a great discussion with a panel representing the blue, red and orange perspectives of Canadian politics. Joining me were Jennifer Hollet of The Walrus, Proof VP Genevieve Tomney, the Honourable James Moore, the Honourable Catherine McKenna, and Zain Velji.  

We need conversations about how to maintain and build trust in both our democratic system and our government. They are two sides of the same coin. The trust of Canadians in elections extends to give legitimacy to our governments. With foreign nations clearly trying to influence elections, it’s urgent that we work together.

There are numerous forces working against trust. These forces come from within and outside our borders. Ignoring them is not an option. We need to be transparent and have honest discussions about the threats.

Political debate and differences of opinion are fine. They’re part of a healthy democracy. The deliberate building of divisions does not build trust. In our 2023 research, 56 per cent of Canadians agreed that political parties are a divisive force. The health of our democracy should not be a wedge issue.

64 per cent of Canadians agree that government has an important role to play to make our lives better. Trust will be built when governments deliver, including infrastructure such as transit lines, clean drinking water and pipelines, or services such as access to family doctors or renewing passports.

Our CanTrust Index research also shows a generational issue. Trust in our electoral system and in the fairness of elections is lowest with our youngest citizens. Young people lose trust when they can’t afford the cost of housing and see the planet’s climate damaged by past generations.

In our multipartisan panel discussion today, there was agreement that political behaviour has become divisive. Some of us were resigned to it, others of us (including me) see the potential to do better. Preferential ballots could be one way to motivate politicians to appeal more widely. Whatever the fix, this discussion needs to continue, and the challenges need to be made transparent.

Trust has been compared to a battery – as you work with people and pursue your goals, are you charging it up or wearing it down?