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It’s Time To Start Building Trust

Bruce MacLellan

Canada is at an inflection point.  Leaders have a choice: stem the decline and become trust builders or set the house on fire and become trust destroyers. This rather blunt assessment is our conclusion based on the 2019 Proof CanTrust Index findings.

With four years of tracking, our 2019 study found that the average trust level in our index fell from 45 to 39. This six-point fall came after three prior years of complete stability. We saw trust fall across the board in most areas we measured including trust in institutions, media, leaders, governments, immigration, and private industries.

The CanTrust Index is a large and deep study of the trust levels of Canadians and the features that make up Canada. We use bigger sample sizes in population segments unique to Canada and analysis related to – people in Quebec, newcomers to Canada, and trust based on political views and where people reside (urban versus rural)

We can’t be casual about trust—when we see it in decline, we should sound the alarm. We must be clear about the problem and the choice: trust-builder or trust-destroyer. Proof is on the side of the builders.

As the Right Honourable David Johnston said in his excellent 2018 book, Trust, Twenty Ways to Build a Better Country, “Each of us can begin strengthening trust and, with our actions, make the country better.”

To critics or those who don’t care, it should be clear that trust is also measured by business metrics and neuroscience. It is not a mushy, feel-good topic. Correlations between trust and economic performance are proven.

For business metrics, a study in the United States by Accenture found a correlation between declining trust with specific corporations and parallel declines in their revenue. Facebook lost billions of dollars in share value when the company broke trust in handing over customer data to Cambridge Analytica. It was made worse when founder Mark Zuckerberg tried to minimize the issue.

In the US, economics and psychology professor Paul Zak has conducted research showing that a brain chemical called oxytocin increases human trustworthiness. Further, certain behavior can raise oxytocin levels and thereby increase trust. Zak’s research has found that higher trust workplaces translate into lower stress, more engagement and higher productivity.

Another notable concern from our 2019 research is the 60% of Canadians agree with the statement “you cannot be too careful dealing with people” in contrast to only 40% who agree “overall, most people can be trusted.” On a peer to peer basis, we are losing trust in our neighbours and strangers. This lack of trust is consistent across small and large communities and is not just a big city issue.

On October 21, Canada will go to the polls for a national election. It was fitting, therefore, that we included several questions around trust in our democratic institutions. We see declines in trust in several places, including the election system and how outcomes represent citizens. Trust is the foundation of democracy and the rule of law. But we are finding cracks in the foundation. The role of the news media is also related to the health of democracies, and here we also see a decline of trust from 51% to 40%.

We know that trust can be earned and built. Trust is built by consistently being honest and transparent, acting with integrity, understanding what people need and only making promises you can keep.

Proof is proud to contribute to the understanding of trust in Canada. Our earlier research found that we could trust Canada to be different, but cracks are now appearing. The country needs a conversation next — about how and why we can build trust, or do we become bystanders as it crumbles?