The Current

Majority of Canadians distrust government: poll suggests

A new survey suggests most Canadians don't trust government, the media and business. The Current looks into what's behind the remarkable change in attitude in the year or so since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took office.
A new Edelman poll shows there's been a precipitous drop off in Canadians' trust of civic institutions. Journalist Susan Delcourt warns Canada is susceptible to the same populist wave that swept U.S. President Trump to power. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Populist anger is moving politics in Canada.

In a recent Edelman poll, only 43 per cent of Canadians say they trust their government — down from 53 per cent a year earlier.

And 80 per cent of Canadians feel the country's elites are out of touch. 

The findings in the so-called Trust Barometer survey conducted annually by public relations firm Edelman is the first time in 17 years that Canada has joined the ranks of "distruster" countries in which more than half of citizens say they distrust their civic institutions.

Author and journalist Susan Delacourt says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should be really concerned. This spike in distrust and cynicism is the same sentiment that propelled Donald Trump to the White House, and it is gaining ground here. 

"We tend to be smug in Canada and candid and think that we don't have the problems we've been seeing in the United States … I don't think we should be, " Delacourt tells The Current's guest host Laura Lynch.
'Trudeau and Trump both owe much of their current popularity to rampant dissatisfaction,' says journalist Susan Delacourt in a Sept. article. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Compared to a year ago after Prime Minister Trudeau was first elected, Delacourt says trust in government and the media has slipped 10 per cent.

The decline in numbers, Delacourt suggests, is most likely because of what is unfolding in the U.S. before and after Trump's election.

"We saw a year in which the media and and the people inside the political bubble had failed to anticipate Brexit and failed to anticipate Trump. And I think that people out there are noticing," Delacourt tells Lynch.

In September, Delacourt wrote a column suggesting Prime Minister Trudeau and U.S. President Trump have "similar disruptive styles to politics."

"Trudeau ran as an outsider. I don't know if you remember the first day of the 2015 election campaign. He was the leader who chose not to be in Ottawa. He portrayed Ottawa as a problem. He ran," Delacourt explains.

Related: The centre cannot hold: Canada faces a populist eruption

The challenge for Trudeau to restore trust in Canadians, according to Delacourt, is to live up to the promise made in his speeches, which is to connect people back to politics.

"How do you make people believe or get them to believe that what is happening inside the halls of power actually affects them in more ways than just their wallets?"

"That's often been the quickest and easiest way to the voters' heart is through their wallets," Delacourt tells Lynch.

"But there's got to be some kind of discussion of the values you hold are also similar to ones here."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post — including two guests who share how eroding public trust has affected their communities. 

This segment was produced by The Current's John Chipman and Sam Colbert.