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Wanted: Trust Builders For Our Democracy

Bruce MacLellan

Canada's Parliament Building, purple tinted

Canada’s 43rd general election has just been completed. The evidence that people were underwhelmed by their choices is best illustrated by the decision by our national newspaper of record to not endorse any leader or party. People were voting against leaders and fears more than they were voting for ideas and dreams.

A victim of this malaise and acrimony is trust. At Proof, we are committed to the ongoing study and advancement of knowledge around trust in all aspects of our nation – and we do just that through a robust annual survey, the CanTrust Index. We dig deep to truly understand how Canadians feel and ask questions about features unique to our country. It’s a Made in Canada trust study.

The morning after election night on October 21, our special edition CanTrust Index: 2019 Post-Election Study went into the field and our sample of 1,000 Canadians was ready by Friday afternoon. After a weekend of analysis, we shared it on October 28 with clients and the general public. Our goal is to stimulate discussion, build knowledge, and contribute to a better atmosphere of nation building. We hope you agree on this goal.

I mentioned trust as a victim because we are seeing continuing erosion. Earlier in 2019 and again last week, we found trust in our democratic institutions is in decline.

The current national party leaders played a role in breaking trust. The blackface fiasco for Justin Trudeau shattered his progressive image. Despite this event, Mr. Trudeau’s trust level has recovered slightly from the midst of the SNC Lavalin crisis. The repeated refusal by Andrew Scheer to answer questions about a smear campaign against his rival Max Bernier was painful to watch. It’s no wonder many voters were despondent with their choices.

As we pointed out earlier in 2019, the driving force of mistrust is western economic hardship. The percentage of Canadians who trust the current election system to adequately represent the votes of citizens has fallen from 51 percent in February 2018, to 47 percent in February 2019, to a low of 44 percent in the week following this latest election. For residents of the three Prairie provinces, the level of trust for this question sits at a dismal 29 percent.

Our institution of Parliament is also in poor regard in the Prairies, with only 27 percent trust, compared to an anemic national level of 42 percent.

The face of mistrust in the West is male, notably the posturing, strong words and ultimatums by Premiers Kenney and Moe. The level of rhetoric is reaching dangerous levels and there is a lot of testosterone in the air. Politicians need to be careful in whipping up people with simplistic solutions or threats. Tone and collaboration are important components of building trust.

A subtler vein of mistrust in Canada is represented by a female face, running across the country and represented by women who are skeptical of the institutions intended to protect us, and who are calling for greater inclusion in the corridors of power.

The findings show several areas where women have less trust than men, including a seven-point difference in trust in the news media, a 10-point difference in trust in the justice system (courts/judges) and a four-point difference in trust in the elections system.

The solution would clearly be more women elected to the House of Commons and in other positions of leadership to build trust. We need more civility in politics, to restore faith and optimism in the democratic system. We also need to focus on topics where we agree, including building economic prosperity through skills training, education, infrastructure investments and fewer trade barriers. Two-thirds of Canadians also support tangible plans to lessen the impact of climate change.

My own sense is that women will be more likely to restore this positive tone. We need more leaders like Rona Ambrose, Chrystia Freeland, Elizabeth May and our new Nunavut MP, Mumilaaq Qaqqaq.

The fathers of confederation created Canada, but I think it will be the mothers of confederation that preserve it. What are your ideas to tackle this trust issue?