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Ten Trust Busters of 2021

Bruce MacLellan

Every year brings a sorry assortment of insensitive, deceitful, or dumb moves by people that strike at the core of trust. Motives can range from nasty and harmful intent to simply being wildly out of touch. In defence of our profession, public relations, bungling trust is not a “PR problem.” It’s a problem of judgement, actions and integrity. Whichever the case, compiling a list for 2021 was too easy, and here are ten nominees for the worst.

1) The former United States President’s insistence that there was election voting fraud carried on through January and still does. As he tries to undermine trust in democracy, he easily ranks as the worst trust buster of the year and perhaps the century.

2) Everyone’s nerves are frayed in this pandemic. As vaccines rolled out, medical and public health officials urged everyone to take whichever you are offered. Then, in May, the National Advisory Committee on vaccines announced that mRNA vaccines are preferred over AstraZeneca and J&J. Confusion prevailed after tens of thousands of Canadians had taken the AZ dose.

3) The scene was the Hylands Golf & Country Club in Ottawa in June where the incredibly out of touch decision was made by Canadian military Lt. General Mike Rouleau, in charge of the military’s investigations unit, to play golf with General Jonathan Vance, accused of inappropriate behavior with female colleagues. There are so many ways this is dumb, and it sadly undermines trust in the brave men and woman of the Canadian Forces.

4) Still in June, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced that pandemic restrictions were lifting, and it would be “the best summer ever.” It was Intensive Care Unit (ICU) patients with COVID-19 that really lifted, forcing Kenney to apologize for relaxing guidelines.

5) In July, the Montreal Canadiens, just a few weeks after a Cinderella story making it to the Stanley Cup final, decided to use their first-round NHL draft pick to select a player who had been fined (legally, not just a hockey fine) for sexual impropriety while playing hockey in Sweden (he sent a photo of his girlfriend engaged in a sex act to his teammates). He had even removed himself from the draft, but the Canadiens drafted him anyway, causing a huge uproar. It’s been downhill for the team since then and the General Manager was fired in November.

6) September 30 was Canada’s first official day of Truth and Reconciliation, as declared by the federal government and Parliament. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Trudeau skipped invitations from Indigenous communities and took his family to the beach in Tofino, BC. I wonder if there were good personal reasons for his move, but a Prime Minister needs to be more transparent and sensitive.

7) October brought more evidence of the social harm caused by social media, when a former Facebook executive testified in Congress that Instagram ignores research that the platform increases mental illness among young girls. Facebook is consistently shown in our CanTrust Index as one of the least trusted companies in Canada, and there appears to be plenty of reasons why.

8) Elon Musk is becoming very good at trust busting. His erratic behavior and questionable use of Twitter to telegraph thoughts disrupts the market. In November, the tech billionaire sold 934,091 Tesla shares, according to financial filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, worth $963.2 million. Yesterday he mused about quitting his job and becoming a social media influencer. That would shake any investor’s confidence, if not trust.

9) Back to Quebec, in November, another trustbuster was airmailed to the world by Michael Rousseau, CEO of Air Canada, after speaking only in English to the Montreal Chamber of Commerce. Rousseau was proud that after 14 years in Montreal he still couldn’t speak French and didn’t even need to try. It’s not like this airline has an abundance of trust to spare. Here is the CBC story: Air Canada CEO apologizes, commits to learning French as backlash in Quebec grows

10) The Cuomo brothers represent a disturbing trust-busting saga that ran through the year, as Governor Andrew Cuomo denied reports harassing women but finally resigned in August. Then, it has emerged that his brother and CNN host Chris Cuomo pressed his media resources to investigate complainants and passed information to his brother. Chris was terminated by CNN in December.

Trust has never been more important to society, democracy and economies. Every organization, every leader, needs to understand how trust works in their context with their stakeholders, and have a deliberate plan to build, nurture and protect it.

Proof Strategies is committed to building knowledge about the unique story of trust in Canada. Through partnerships such as the Institute of Corporate Directors or The Walrus, we openly share research and insights to help leaders and managers be better at trust. There is a direct connection between trust and the effective oversight of strategy, culture, risk, revenue and more. As values, populations and expectations change, this work is another example of how everyone must keep pace.