Canadians are stressed about the economy and have little faith in politicians or governments to fix big problems, a new poll suggests.
The annual CanTrust Index published by Proof Strategies asks Canadians about their level of trust in everything from political leaders and businesses to corporations, media, bankers and scientists.
The 2024 edition shows that fear of economic pain, such as a recession or unemployment, appears to be generating higher levels of anxiety than COVID-19 has ever generated.
“We were surprised to see how high the anxiety has gotten,” said Proof president Bruce MacLellan. “Two-thirds of Canadians say they currently feel anxiety and stress.”
Women in particular reported higher levels of economic anxiety and lower levels of trust in Canada’s health care system and democracy than their male counterparts.
Nearly three in four women surveyed said the economy had increased their anxiety and stress levels compared to fewer than three in five men who took part in the survey.
“If people don’t feel like they’re getting a fair deal, if they feel like they’re not moving forward or not taking care of their families, they start to lose trust,” MacLellan said.
He cited in particular the “values question,” which asks respondents to rate a list of core values that represent Canada.
“For women, every one of them has diminished and their confidence that Canada is living up to its values is diminishing.”
The survey also suggests that Canadians’ faith in the country’s political leaders to ease those fears is still reaching new levels, MacLellan said.
“I think the biggest problem areas are the behavior of politicians and how they don’t contribute or build trust.”
Trust in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has plummeted in the past 12 months, he added: while 36 per cent of respondents believed he would do the right thing for Canadians a year ago, now only 25 per cent do.
Last month, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland cited anxiety over the cost of living and housing when asked why her government was doing so poorly in recent opinion polls.
Opposition leaders didn’t fare much better: public trust in them was only slightly higher than Trudeau’s. About 32 per cent said they trusted Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre or NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh to do the right thing.
Overall, faith in politicians was a paltry 17 percent, something MacLellan said should be a wake-up call to those competing for votes.
Less than one in four people surveyed believed that any level of government (federal, provincial or municipal) would be able to solve the affordable housing crisis.
Only one in three said they believed Canada would meet its national climate goals, while just under half of respondents said they trusted the federal government to respond to a natural disaster.
At the provincial level, 47 per cent said they trusted the provinces to provide education and 44 per cent trusted the provinces in public health.
There were some glimmers of hope for a handful of institutions or organizations.
In the 2023 survey, only 30 per cent of respondents said they had faith in Hockey Canada, a few months after the national sporting body saw its entire board of directors resign amid investigations into its handling of conduct allegations inappropriate sexual activity against players.
This year, trust in Hockey Canada jumped to 41 per cent.
The media also fared better, MacLellan said. About 56 percent of respondents said they trust traditional media to provide reliable information, and 49 percent said the same about journalists.
This figure is still far behind trust in doctors (78 percent), scientists (74 percent) and teachers (68 percent), but far ahead of bankers (40 percent) and religious leaders (30 percent).
“These are brutal times for trust,” MacLellan said.
“Polarized politics, economic stress, just deliberate misinformation, and yet it’s encouraging when we see trust in the media and growing trust in experts, like scientists and doctors.”
The Trust Index surveyed 1,501 Canadian adults online between Jan. 3 and 13. Online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not take a random sample of the population.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 13, 2024.