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Top Trust Busters of 2017

Bruce MacLellan

Our firm’s examination of trust in Canada and around the world reveals a continued mix of gainers and losers. Some leaders are adroit at building trust while others could not be clumsier in shattering it. It’s an issue for every organization and across the global political structure.

Trust levels in some countries have been connected to economic and cultural populism and the events of 2016 in Great Britain (Brexit) and the United States (President Trump’s election) continue to haunt the world.

Canada’s Foreign Minister, the Honourable Chrystia Freeland, writing recently in The Economist about populism said that “In most places where nativism has appeared as a political force, income inequality was there first.”

Our 2017 CanTrust Index found that trust levels are holding in our country. As we shared, we can trust Canada to be different. We don’t see the same plummeting levels of trust in Canada and reject anyone who assumes US events are inevitably Canadian events. My business partner, and friend, Michael Adams has also written extensively about the cultural differences between Canadians and Americans, including his newest book. These differences translate into voting behavior and political outcomes. Further, as Michael wrote on July 3 in The Globe & Mail: “Across more than three dozen measures, public trust levels have either held steady or showed modest improvement in comparison with three years ago.”

Coming back to the past year, there have been more cases of trust busting than space allows. I have selected this cross-section of eight trust-busting events that illustrate a range of bad judgment, executive entitlement, absent ethics, corporate deceit and plain old-fashioned political deafness.

Sears Canada broke trust with employees when it filed for creditor protection, offered $6.2 million in bonuses to executives and tried to pull out of obligations to pension plan members.

Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and other men who harassed women and committed unacceptable offenses. Along with these men, the organizations that failed to stop such behaviour by conducting investigations, training staff and making safe workplace policies clear, have a long way to go to rebuild trust.

UK PM Teresa May lost trust with many Londoners when she refused to meet with Grenfell Tower community residents after the deadly fire blamed in part on unsafe building materials. In a subsequent election, she lost both trust and seats in the House of Commons.

Home Capital shares fell from a high of $55 to $5.06 in May after it was revealed that the company had widespread weaknesses with compliance and many brokers were approving mortgages outside of acceptable risk. Time will tell how Warren Buffet can restore trust.

Equifax, the credit rating agency, suffered a large breach to private data on thousands of people and then tried to charge people a fee to make security changes. A double blow to trust.

Bell-Pottinger, the UK-based public relations firm tarnished the entire industry’s reputation when it was caught promoting racial tension in South Africa for a despicable client. The PR shop was booted out of the British PR Association and then went into well-deserved bankruptcy. Shame on them.

Volkswagen Canada had its offices raided in September by Ontario Ministry of Environment officials for failing to produce answers to the probe into emission defeat switches. Isn’t two years long enough to get past a reputation and trust crisis?!

US President Donald Trump’s random, abusive and inaccurate tweets about a range of people, places, and organizations, including Canadian dairy farmers, the City of Paris, the Mayor of London, Muslims, and countless other topics. He has become the font of fake.

On a positive note, I would like to recognize Loblaw Companies Limited as a company that builds trust. (Yes, we work with this organization.) In addition to being a great Canadian brand, their PC Children’s Charity harnesses their network of more than 1,100 grocery stores, millions of customers and almost 200,000 employees to tackle childhood hunger. In 2018, the charity will help feed more than 500,000 Canadian children breakfasts, snacks, and lunches each day. That number will steadily increase, with a goal of closing the gap to all 1.1 million children at risk of going to school hungry. Operating well-run businesses that employ Canadians, supporting local communities, and tackling a major problem like childhood hunger are three great ways to build trust.

Trust continues to be the lubricant that keeps economies running smoothly and the foundation that maintains sturdy democracies. Both corporations and governments need to show they are putting people first and making sure everyone shares in opportunities for success. We need ethical, caring and courageous leaders who accept responsibility for problems and bring people together in solutions. Let’s hope we see lots of that in 2018.