Canada's polling industry association is shutting down
Shocking members, Market Research and Intelligence Association says it will wind down by the end of August
The organization that represents public opinion pollsters and market researchers in Canada is disbanding, leaving the Canadian polling industry without a self-governing oversight body.
In a short email to members sent Tuesday morning, Amy Charles, the chair of the Market Research and Intelligence Association's board, announced that the MRIA would cease day-to-day operations effective today, with the organization winding down its operations by the end of August.
"The organization's current financial situation leaves no other possible alternative," says the statement. "With a steady erosion of membership revenues and subsequent to the recent Annual Conference that left us with a significant shortfall, we are compelled to undertake this action."
Only those members with the MRIA's "gold seal" accreditation were alerted to the decision last week. Pollsters contacted by CBC News expressed surprise at the move.
"Yes, was totally surprised," said Lorne Bozinoff, president of Forum Research, in an email. "I had no notice that they were facing issues."
"Total shock," said Anastasia Arabia of Trend Research, who was president of the MRIA from 2013 to 2014. "I've gotten so many emails and phone calls from around the country from members."
Don Mills, CEO of Corporate Research Associates, said the news "caught everybody completely off guard. It was quite a shock, frankly."
Mills called the decision to dissolve the MRIA "disappointing," citing the work the organization had done in trying to set standards and certify market researchers. He said he is baffled by the fact that the board of directors felt forced to make this move.
"How could it get to this point without anyone in the industry knowing that the MRIA was in trouble?"
"Closing the MRIA was not something we would have considered," said Arabia. "I'm confident the board made the best decision that they could, but there was no outreach and I don't know why. This is a huge loss to the industry."
MRIA not without its critics
The MRIA was formed in 2004 out of the merger of three industry organizations, but it had been criticized by some in the industry for being toothless when it came to holding its members to a set of standards.
The Canadian Association for Public Opinion Research was formed to address those deficiencies in transparency and reporting standards. That eventually led to the merger of the two organizations in 2016, after the MRIA brought its standards into line.
There were two problems with the MRIA, said Janet Brown, an independent pollster who was commissioned by CBC News to conduct a poll on the political views of Albertans earlier this year.
"If you were a pollster who didn't care about standards, you didn't join the MRIA," she said. "If you were a pollster who did care, you didn't join because the MRIA didn't enforce its standards."
A former member of the association, Brown said she left about a dozen years ago after the MRIA failed to sanction a member organization that had been shown to have published falsified data.
The abrupt way the MRIA handled its announcement was "another example of how little they cared about the health of the industry," said Brown.
'We have to fill the void'
But most people within the industry contacted by CBC News are lamenting the end of the MRIA.
"The MRIA will be missed by those in the marketing research industry who have been collectively represented by their association in order to provide benefits to their members, including educational services to those building their careers and advocating for the industry with governments and industry regulators," said Christopher Adams, a professor at the University of Manitoba who was working on a report for the MRIA on the performance of polls during the 2017 Calgary municipal election, in an email.
"It is hoped, at least by me, that this vacuum will not be prolonged."
When the MRIA dissolves, Canada will be without a national oversight body for the polling industry — making it a bit of an outlier. There are a number of international organizations in existence, though both the United States and Great Britain, for example, have their own national associations. Arabia wonders whether some of the sister organizations of the MRIA in these countries could open a Canadian chapter.
A new organization might be in the works. A joint statement by Mills and Jean-Marc Léger, president of Léger 360, and signed by five other prominent pollsters, was released later in the day, just hours after the MRIA's closure was announced.
In the statement, Léger said that "in the absence of MRIA, a new organization must be created that will act as the standard-bearer for quality research, industry standards and certification process.
"We will continue our discussions with a view to launching a new standards and certification body in short order. We will also be broadening our outreach to other industry leaders who share our belief that quality, scientifically-sound research is a critical goal."
Speaking with CBC News, Mills said he and others in the industry have been talking about the importance of setting — and enforcing — standards.
"There's an agreement, that there has to be consequences for people who don't abide by the standards," he said. "I'm encouraged by the quick response we've had to the issue.
"We know that we have to fill the void."