Most Sask. residents believe society has become more polarized compared to a year ago: survey
CHASR survey finds younger respondents more likely to believe increasing ethnic diversity unites people
A strong majority of respondents in a new poll in Saskatchewan said society has become more polarized compared to a year ago.
The Canadian Hub for Applied and Social Research (CHASR) at the University of Saskatchewan conducted the survey on divisiveness in partnership with CBC Saskatchewan, collecting data by phone from 400 residents across the province between Dec. 1, 2021 and Dec. 30, 2021.
The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.90 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
According to the survey, 78.7 per cent of respondents believe that society has become more polarized. Just over 17 per cent said polarization is about the same, and around two per cent said society has become less polarized.
"It seems to be a very timely topic to ask," said CHASR director Jason Disano.
"We don't have any sort of historical or retrospective data to compare this to…. But what the data do indicate is that people are largely feeling that we are divided as a province. "
More than 8 out of 10 people think pandemic has been dividing people in Sask.
Survey participants were asked about five potentially divisive topics: the COVID-19 pandemic, fighting climate change, the energy sector, the federal election and increasing ethnic diversity.
In three out of the five categories, the majority of respondents said the issue has served to divide the people of Saskatchewan over the past year, with a fourth coming just shy of 50 per cent.
About 83 per cent agreed that the pandemic has been dividing people, and more than 70 per cent said the same about the federal election.
Disano said he was surprised to see 44 per cent of respondents say that increasing ethnic diversity has served to unite the Saskatchewan population.
"I was expecting that one to sort of fall more on the side of divisiveness as opposed to uniting folks," he said.
"But I was happy to see that one came out a bit more balanced."
Responses varied somewhat by demographic.
For example, younger survey participants (18 to 34) were more likely to believe that ethnic diversity has been uniting people (74 per cent), particularly compared to the 55 and older age group (32.8 per cent).
Respondents in larger cities like Saskatoon or Regina were more likely to think the COVID-19 pandemic united people of Saskatchewan (around 19 per cent) in comparison with respondents from smaller cities or rural areas (around seven per cent).
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe talked about the divisiveness in his province on Tuesday.
Moe asked people to be understanding of each other's choices around getting a COVID-19 vaccine or wearing a mask.
"Don't lose a friend to COVID. You might have to take some time apart, but keep that door open," Moe said.
Divisiveness around climate change and the energy sector
Respondents also ranked the energy sector (49.8 per cent) and climate change (62.3 per cent) as divisive subjects.
Younger respondents were more likely than older respondents to think that the energy sector united the people of Saskatchewan, with 57.1 per cent in the 18 to 34 age group saying so. More participants 55 or older thought the topic was divisive (74 per cent) rather than a unifying force (26 per cent).
As an advocate for the fight against climate change, Saskatchewan farmer and lawyer Glenn Wright often experiences the polarization first hand.
"In the farming circles, I see many people feeling threatened," he said.
"A lot of them can't envision a way to grow our food without the connection to fossil fuels, whether that is fertilizer that's applied or whether it is diesel fuel to run their tractors and combines."
Wright farms between Vanscoy and Delisle, southwest of Saskatoon.
He is very outspoken about climate change, which has led to estrangement from some friends and family members.
"I've been subject to personal attacks," he said.
"I have pushed the issue at family discussions and at Christmas time to the point where I've seen some of my relatives get upset and push themselves up from the table to get up and leave."
Wright said he hopes the polarization will not last forever.
"Am I going to take any pleasure in 20 years from now saying I told you so? Probably not."
1 in 3 people have reduced contact with someone because of differing views
Wright is not alone.
When survey participants were asked if, over the past year, they have had reduced contact with a friend or family member because of differing views or opinions, almost 32 per cent — nearly one in three people — said they had.
"That's a pretty sizable chunk," said Disano.
The vast majority of the respondents (around 94 per cent) who had this reduced contact said it was due to disagreement about COVID-19.
A larger proportion of women (39.2 per cent) than men (23.5 per cent) had reduced contact with someone in the last year because of differing views.
Darla Read is one of those people.
The Saskatoon woman left her parents' house in November 2020 after a disagreement about how the pandemic was being handled by politicians in the province.
While the relationship was not perfect before COVID-19 hit, Read and her mother used to be close after Read's now-seven-year-old son was born.
Now the Saskatoon woman doesn't talk with her parents unless they are making arrangements for her son to meet his grandparents. She said she doesn't want her son's relationship with his grandparents to become estranged.
"My parents are good grandparents," said Read.
"You can love someone and love many parts of them, and there are also going to be other parts that you don't like. It's not that easy. Nothing is that black and white."