Trust issues: Canada’s sharp — and negative — turn in voter sentiment

ANALYSIS: As the leaders’ rhetoric has heated up, Canadians’ trust in government has fallen
By Brad Graham - Published on Sep 10, 2021
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, Bloc Québécois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, and moderator Pierre Bruneau at the first French leaders’ debate on September 2. (Martin Chevalier/CP)

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The Governance Monitor, an initiative from the Institute on Governance and Advanced Symbolics, tracks the impact of the election campaign on Canadians’ trust in government, going beyond the horse race to produce informed insights and analysis.

This is the second in a series of articles jointly produced by the Institute on Governance and Advanced Symbolics for TVO.org and iPolitics. Throughout the federal-election campaign, these articles will analyze the extent to which Canadians trust in government — and what that trust could mean for the future of our country.

The Governance Monitor focuses on what the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has identified as “strong predictors of public trust”: responsiveness, reliability, integrity, openness, and fairness.

Data trends: 

    • When the election was called on August 15, Canadians’ trust in government stood at 57chart titled "daily trust tracker" per cent.
    • Trust generally remained above average in August but fell to a low of 51 per cent on August 29.
    • Trust remained below average in September and stood at 55 per cent on September 7.
    • Trust in public institutions is lowest in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Quebec and highest in British Columbia, Manitoba, and Ontario.
    • Of the IOG/ASI ideological cohorts (far left, left, centre, right, far right), the 5 per cent of Canadians on the far right report the lowest level of trust in government, at only 51 per cent. This compares to 64 per cent among Canadians in the centre of the spectrum.
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    chart with blue bars, titled "trust by ideological cohort"

    What it means

    While trust in government institutions was consistent heading into the first several days of the election, the expected election trust bump was short-lived. Canadians were questioning governments’ responsiveness — which is one of the leading components of trust — as they grappled with the fourth wave of COVID-19 and as wildfires continued to burn in the West. 

    The day after the August 15 election call, the government in Afghanistan collapsed, and Canadians witnessed not only a chaotic exit led by Western governments, but also an unfolding humanitarian crisis. Trust dropped from August 26, the day of the last Canadian exit flight, to a low of 51 per cent on August 29.

    Politicians lead governments. The sharp and negative turn that trust in government took in September occurred as leaders’ election rhetoric sharpened around such issues as the role of the private sector in health care, access to abortion services, gun control, and the need to increase vaccination rates in Canada.

    We are also seeing a very “un-Canadian” rise in political-protest aggression and vitriol from anti-vaxxers, reportedly led by members of the far right. We know that the 5 per cent on the far right are extremely engaged on social media and have by far the lowest level of trust in government. 

    Overall, the fourth wave of COVID-19 is not having a significant impact on Canadians’ trust in government, as it is seen as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” 

    Why it matters

    A new government will need the trust of Canadians if it is to effectively implement a new mandate. If trust continues to decline across all five of the IOG/ASI ideological cohorts, it will be increasingly difficult for a new government to achieve consensus when addressing such key files as climate change and systemic racism. 

    We can expect Canadians to be more engaged and interested in the campaign as the televised leaders’ debates unfold. It will be interesting to see whether these debates also affect Canadians’ longer-term views on the ability of government and its institutions to address leaders’ key commitments.

    chart with blue bars, titled "trust by ideological cohort" image widget
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