MONTREAL ― Despite a strong economy that has churned out a record number of jobs in recent years and a housing market that has fattened many households’ assets, Canadians have serious doubts about their financial future and the economy as a whole.
Those are the key findings in the latest edition of the annual “trust barometer” from public relations firm Edelman, which measures public trust in “the system” ― government, business, non-governmental organizations and the media.
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The survey of 1,500 Canadians was carried out from Oct. 19 to Nov. 18, 2019, well before the coronavirus outbreak and the Wet’suwet’en solidarity protests placed large question marks on the economic outlook.
It found that 76 per cent of Canadians are worried about losing their jobs, with the gig economy, a lack of training or skills, and fears of a recession the top reasons for the concern.
It found that barely more than a third of Canadians ― 35 per cent ― expect they will be better off in five years’ time. That’s lower than the U.S., where 43 per cent expect to be better off, but higher than in some developed countries, such as the U.K. and Japan.
“There is a narrative in Canada that while there are indicators of a strong-performing economy, there are some underlying issues,” said Lisa Kimmel, CEO of Edelman’s Canada and Latin America operations.
She listed off the country’s high household debt levels, the still-unratified new North American free trade deal, trade tensions with China and “obviously the whole pipeline issue” in a conversation with HuffPost Canada.
“The reality is we are a resource-based economy still, our future economic prosperity to a large degree is dependent on our ability to get oil out of the country. Those are issues that cause great anxiety.
“And there seems to be an inability ― we’re seeing it play out around these [pipeline] protests ― in coming to an agreement as to what we’re going to do as a country about that issue,” Kimmel said in a phone interview.
Elites turning pessimistic faster than others
Edelman’s survey breaks down respondents into two groups: The “informed public” ― those who tend to consume a lot of news and who tend to have higher incomes and education ― and the “mass public,” which is everyone else.
One use of this breakdown is that it offers an insight into how the country’s elites are thinking, and it’s among this group that pessimism is particularly on the rise in Canada ― a trend that Kimmel describes as “concerning.”
As in most other countries, Canada’s “informed public” has more faith in institutions such as government, business and media than the mass public, but that faith dropped sharply among Canadians in the latest survey.
Faith in government, business and media fell by eight percentage points each, and the share of “informed public” who believe they will be better off five years from now dropped to 47 per cent from 53 per cent a year earlier ― though that’s still more optimistic than the public as a whole.
Kimmel thinks that may have had to do with last year’s federal election.
“For many people among the informed public ― and this extends to the mass public as well ― we didn’t have great options to choose from,” she said. “You had to choose the best of not great options. That to me demonstrates there is not a lot of confidence and trust that’s being placed in political leaders today in Canada.”
What people demand from leaders is changing, Kimmel acknowledged.
“Expectations of leadership have evolved. The characteristics that defined leaders in the past ― [for example] delivering strong financial results ― aren’t necessarily going to be the qualities that make a good leader in the future.”
Business leaders, for instance, are expected not only to deliver financial results, but to prioritize the well-being of the communities in which they operate. And more than ever, politicians need to be “collaborative, [to] lead with purpose and understand the issues that are most concerning to their stakeholders,” Kimmel said.
“The expectations are greater than they once were.”