Justin Trudeau used to tell crowds that one of his goals as prime minister would be to reconnect Canadians with politics and government.
That mission remains unaccomplished, judging from a large look into the state of Canadian trust. The CanTrust Index, as it’s called, has been released annually in each of the past four years Trudeau has been in power, and the 2019 edition is particularly dismal.
Trust is down nearly everywhere – not just in the prime minister, but in the democratic system overall – and faith in our basic institutions is fragmenting along political and geographic lines.
“I’m sure he didn’t set out to do this, but he’s polarized trust in Canada,” says Bruce MacLellan, head of the Proof marketing and communications firm that conducts the survey.
“Now we’re seeing a picture of a country that’s regionally divided on trust and politically divided on trust, which is not good.”
In other countries, trust tends to vary across socio-economic divisions, but what makes these latest results “troubling” to MacLellan is the way in which trust is being decided by where you live or which party you support. Welcome to election year 2019.
For the first three years that this index was conducted, Trudeau’s trust numbers hovered around 46 per cent. But that dropped to 40 per cent this year, accompanied by similar plunges for the news media and large corporations.
In 2018, a reasonably healthy 51 per cent of people expressed trust in the media, while 28 per cent said they trusted big business. In 2019, it’s just 40 per cent for the media and 20 per cent for large corporations.
If these results are correct, we’ve become a very skeptical nation – not even sure whether we should trust each other.
Only two out of every five Canadians agreed with the statement that “most people can be trusted” and three out of five endorsed the idea that “you cannot be too careful in dealing with people.”
Alberta looks to be ground zero for crumbling trust, and Edmonton in particular, where only one in five respondents from that city said people could be trusted.
“Only 22 per cent of Albertans trust governments, compared to 36 per cent of Canadians overall and 39 per cent of Ontarians,” Proof reported in the release accompanying the study.
Trust is now a partisan matter, too. Only 21 per cent of Conservatives said that overall, people could be trusted, compared to 50 per cent among Liberals.
Only 21 per cent of Conservatives said they trusted governments, compared to 63 per cent of Liberals.
The results were gathered over the last three weeks in February, which also coincided with the outbreak of the SNC-Lavalin affair for Trudeau’s government and all the talk of “erosion of trust.”
But this was also before former minister Jody Wilson-Raybould delivered her bombshell testimony at the Commons justice committee, so MacLellan suspects that that trust may have further plummeted for Trudeau since these already-bleak numbers were amassed.
On the other hand, this was also long before the recent Alberta election, which saw a Conservative government come to power, so it could be that Albertans are feeling a bit better about governments these days.
Oh, and how are Canadians feeling about the immigration and refugee system? Forget those heady days of late 2015, when a newly elected Trudeau government opened its arms to Syrian refugees and proclaimed Canada a haven for newcomers.
Only 43 per cent of respondents to this online poll agreed that the immigration system was fair and a scant 36 per cent said the refugee system balanced “the plight of refugees with the needs of the country.”
Maybe people are connected to politics in 2019 – just not the way Trudeau intended.
Susan Delacourt is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.