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The COVID Effect: Canadians Trust Doctors and Scientists

February 11, 2021

February 11, 2021 – As the first anniversary of the pandemic hitting Canada approaches, Canadians hold the highest trust levels for scientists and doctors, while politicians and employers are sliding down the trust scale. A resounding 85 per cent of Canadians also agree that it is very or extremely important for citizens to have access to fact-based journalism. Canadians want advice from experts and information based on facts, both traits that support a healthy democracy.

The results come from the 2021 Proof Strategies CanTrust Index, one of the largest studies of trust by Canadians in leaders, sources and institutions. The survey of 1,517 Canadians was conducted January 8-20, 2021 and follows a year of pandemic disruption and deaths, racial inequalities coming to a boiling point and an economic recession affecting millions of workers.

“Canadians are telling us very clearly who they trust to get us through the pandemic, and the advice they want comes from labs not legislatures and medicine not management,” said Bruce MacLellan, President & CEO of Proof Strategies.

The three most trusted sources of “reliable information” in general are doctors at 81 per cent, scientists at 77 per cent and friends and family at 64 per cent. Educators are trusted by 62 per cent. In contrast, business executives are trusted by 24 per cent and politicians by 18 per cent.

The CanTrust Index, now in its sixth year, has consistently shown high trust levels among Canadians for their key public services such as healthcare, education and the military. Canadians trust government services and the public sector, but not the politicians who oversee it.

“While conspiracy theories and polarization are major issues south of the border, Canada is in a healthier state of trust. Our scientific and medical community should be at the decision table and encouraged to keep speaking the truth,” added MacLellan.

Employers Receive Falling Grades

Canada’s employees are giving a poor grade to their own employers about their capacity to build trust during this pandemic. Overall, employees give employers a D grade in January 2021, down from a C- in January 2020. Frontline service workers, a group severely tested by the pandemic, have dropped the grade of their employers from C- to D-.

Trust in large corporations remains very low at 27 per cent. Similarly, trust in management is at 28 per cent and boards of directors at 26 per cent. In positive findings, trust in Canadian financial markets increased over the year from 36 per cent to 43 per cent.

“The dismally poor representation of gender and diversity on Canada’s boards is certainly undermining trust. When people don’t see themselves reflected, they can’t trust their interests are considered,” said MacLellan.

The drivers of corporate trust

Organizations should have deliberate plans for maintaining and building trust and be more aware of warning signs when trust is being eroded. Preserving trust requires intentional effort, every day by everyone. It should not be left to accident. When asked what behaviour will make a company or brand more trustworthy, Canadians say having values close to my own (67 per cent), a focus on employee safety and well being (67 per cent), having a leader that communicates openly (63 per cent), advocating for positive social change (58 per cent) and committing to inclusion and diversity (57 per cent). Residents of Quebec are more likely than other Canadians to trust companies that share their values and show advocacy for social change.

Trust in reliable information about COVID-19 and vaccines

For reliable information about COVID-19, 63 per cent of Canadians trust Canada’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, 61 per cent trust their provincial health officer and 59 per cent trust the World Health Organization. The influence of CEOs in discussing the pandemic is limited, as only 24 per cent trust this group on the topic of COVID-19. In the middle, 46 per cent of Canadians say they trust journalists for COVID-19 information.

Overall, 64 per cent of people say they trust the vaccine to be safe and effective. Among lower income Canadians, trust in the vaccine is significantly lower at 50 per cent.

“Our research indicates that lower income and younger Canadians in particular have the most significant levels of vaccine hesitancy,” said Vanessa Eaton, Executive Vice President at Proof Strategies. “In order to achieve optimal vaccination levels, we need to better understand their concerns so we can better address them.  A communication strategy, grounded in medical expertise and fact sharing, is needed to help increase trust and build a bridge from where we are today to where we need to be in months from now.”

Seven-in-ten Canadians are checking news sources regularly for pandemic updates, with 28 per cent checking multiple times a day and 42 per cent checking every day or so, underscoring both the dominance of the issue and the trust in the news media.

An East-West Divide in Canada

In general, trust in Canada’s major institutions is falling in the west and stable in the east. Falling trust in the three Prairie Provinces is a key drag on overall national trust averages. In particular, trust in Prairie Premiers has plummeted from 38 per cent in 2020 to 22 per cent in 2021, with Premier Jason Kenney of Alberta falling 17 per cent. By contrast, trust in Atlantic Premiers has increased 14 per cent to 50 per cent over the year among residents of that region. In Canada’s largest province, Ontario’s Premier has gained 5 percentage points, rising from a trust level of 28 per cent last year to 33 per cent during the pandemic.

Trust in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is now at 32 per cent, down from 39 per cent a year ago, and his trust levels have fallen over the year in all five regions of the country, including a significant drop of 9 per cent in two provinces, British Columbia and Ontario.

Racism and Equity

In a year when racism and social inequity have come to the forefront, Canadians identify individual citizens at 59 per cent as having the greatest responsibility to address these issues, followed closely by the federal (58 per cent) and provincial governments (57 per cent). On a scale of zero to 100, Canadians assign a score of 62 for Canada’s record of providing opportunity regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or gender. Concerns about systemic racism are certain to shape trust in Canada and it is not a coincidence that trust in the RCMP has fallen by 10 per cent to 50 per cent compared to one year ago. There have been several challenges facing the organization during 2020 and only 41 per cent of lower income Canadians now trust the RCMP.

NOTE: Next month, the first CanTrust Index study of trust levels with Black Canadians will be released.

Other Survey Findings

About Proof Strategies Inc.

For leaders responsible for managing, protecting and building organizations and brands, Proof Strategies is a public relations and communications partner that “asks better questions” to create insight, grow trust and achieve prosperity. Founded in 1994, the independently owned agency has offices in Toronto, Montréal, Ottawa and Washington, DC.  

Follow Proof at and on Twitter and Instagram at @get_proof.

About the Proof Strategies CanTrust Index

The Proof Strategies CanTrust Index is a leading source of research and understanding of trust in Canada. We study and analyze topics, institutions, events and population segments unique to Canada and surveyed 1,517 Canadians during January 8-20 by online panel. (There were 1,813 total interviews done including the sample augments.) The sample is representative of Canadian population statistics by region, age and gender.

For further information:

Related Links: Proof Strategies CanTrust Index, Our Advice on Preserving Trust through 2021

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