Adams and Parkin: Don’t let angry protestors fool you — Canadians still trust in our democracy

Good nuanced perspective:

Certain truths seem self-evident: We are all created equal. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Our democracy is imploding under the strain of declining trust and increasing polarization.

The first two we should accept, but the characterization of our democracy as nearing collapse does not fit the facts, at least not in Canada. The trends run in the opposite direction: trust in many of our democratic institutions is actually growing, and the gaps between the political left and right are in fact narrowing. This helps put the troubling scenes of gravel-throwing anti-vaccine protestors in context: it is not just that they are a small minority — it is that the protestors and the majority of Canadians are moving in completely opposite directions.

Our regular Environics Institute surveys show that three in four Canadians are satisfied with the way democracy works in this country — a proportion that has held steady over the past 10 years. An equal number are satisfied with the way our political system works, but in this case, satisfaction has risen. Feelings of pride in the Canadian political system and of respect for our political institutions have both also been gradually increasing.

It is true that only a minority of Canadians have a lot of trust in Parliament or in political parties — a degree of healthy skepticism that is neither surprising nor problematic. But over 80 per cent have at least some trust. And the trends again are positive: strong trust in Parliament has risen by 19 points since 2010, including a 10-point increase since the previous survey in 2019. Strong trust in Parliament is now twice as high as it was just seven years ago; weak trust is now almost twice as low. The change in the case of trust in political parties is more modest, but in the same positive direction.

While the anger seen on the campaign trail makes our politics seem highly polarized, this too is a misleading impression. Our research shows that, in many cases, the views about our democracy among those on the left and right of the political spectrum have actually become more similar over the past few years, rather than diverging. And while it goes without saying that the Conservatives draw more support from those on the right and the NDP attracts more of those on the left, the fact is that the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP each draw a majority of their support from those who place themselves in the centre. The electorate is not divided into hostile camps separated by a widening, unbridgeable gulf.

But there is one measure in our survey that has shown a sudden decline: national pride. Almost all of us continue to feel at least some pride in being Canadian, but in our latest survey, this pride is less strongly expressed — a change likely linked to the discovery earlier this year of hundreds of graves of Indigenous children at the sites of former residential schools. Our survey began right after Canada Day, when many Canadians were discussing what these discoveries mean for the country. As these discussions unfolded, flags were lowered to half-mast, and feelings of national pride became more muted.

But this too is more the sign of a healthy democracy than one in crisis. It is reassuring to see that the revelations about residential schools upset our self-image. The shift in the tone of Canada Day from celebration to reflection did not occur only among a handful of political insiders, but among many ordinary citizens as well. This is a sign of a democracy in which minds remain open, and backs are not turned on one another.

As voting day approaches, there is no better time to bring the image we have of our democracy into alignment with the evidence. Angry antimask or antivaccination protestors fuelled by misinformation are currently a security and public health risk, but they are not the tip of a larger iceberg that reflects broader public opinion.

Canada is not the United States, and what has happened there (and elsewhere) does not always foreshadow events here. In a year filled with so much bad news, let’s open the curtains to welcome at least one ray of sunshine.

Source: https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2021/09/13/dont-let-angry-protestors-fool-you-canadians-still-trust-in-our-democracy.html

What if we keep working from home?

Good depiction of some of the issues, including increased inequality:

Millions of Canadians are now well into their second year of working from home. As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, non-essential employees began working from their couches, kitchens and bedrooms, hopping virtually from one endless video meeting to another. What began as a temporary arrangement, however, will likely change the way we do our jobs permanently: working from home has its challenges, but it has enough upsides that both workers and employers may be reluctant to go back to the old ways. If this happens, we must ensure that this shift does not widen workplace inequalities.

Not all workers are equally likely to have been working from home during the pandemic. The shift was easier for people with office jobs, for instance, than for those in retail. Workers with permanent, full-time, higher-paid jobs are also more likely than those with less secure, lower-paid positions to have been working from home. This is the first way in which the change has exacerbated inequality within Canadian society: more economically vulnerable workers also ended up more vulnerable to the virus owing to their need to be physically present at work. All Canadians have been urged to stay at home as much as possible during the pandemic, but their ability to do so is in large part a function of the types of jobs that they hold.

For many who made the transition from office desk to the kitchen table, the experience has generally been positive – perhaps surprisingly so. In our recent survey, more than three in five agree that working from home has been easier than expected, and they say they like working from home better than their regular workplace. The same proportion even say that working remotely has been less stressful than working in the office. So far, so good.

At the same time, more than two in five express concerns about juggling work and family responsibilities while working from home – they feel like they are constantly working and never have time for themselves or their families. One in three find it impossible to do their job well while working from home.

It will shock no one that these stresses are most acutely experienced by parents of young children. Three in five of those caring for young children say they worry that they can’t be a good parent and be good at their job at the same time while working from home.

Younger workers, immigrants, racialized people, Indigenous workers and workers with a physical or mental condition that limits their daily activity are also more likely to experience challenges working from home. Most notably, each of these groups is more likely than average to worry that working from home will have a negative impact on their career. These workers may be less securely employed, and therefore more concerned about the longer-term consequences of being physically distant from their workplaces.

What’s notable, though, is that many of those experiencing challenges with working from home nonetheless feel positive about the arrangement overall. In fact, seven in 10 of those who have been working at home say that once the pandemic is over, their employer should continue to allow them to work remotely at least a few days a week. Clearly, workers are likely to expect greater flexibility from employers from now on.

All of this puts the onus to act back on employers and policy makers alike. It is not enough to pick up on the current zeitgeist and consider offering more flexible working arrangements once all lockdowns have been lifted. This experience should bring with it an obligation to ensure that new arrangements do not simply place further disadvantages on those already less connected to the centres of power.

Coming out of the events of the past year, we must renew our resolve to tackle persistent inequalities. This includes confronting the higher risks faced by front-line workers, the bigger challenges for those combining work and family responsibilities, and the greater barriers facing minority groups. New working arrangements will need new infrastructure, new policies, new supports, new ways of thinking about work and new skills for both employee and managers. These changes must now be made, not only in the context of physical offices and places of business, but in virtual ones as well.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/commentary/article-what-if-we-keep-working-from-home/

Adams and Parkin: The coronavirus pandemic will not dent the trust Canadians have in each other

Of note. To be tested but does seem like the trust factor remains, both for individuals and organizations:

In just a few days, we went from wondering how COVID-19 would affect us to finding ourselves in the midst of a national emergency. Many expect major disruptions to expose the weak patches in our civic fabric, and there have been, and will continue to be, actions and episodes that have disappointed and shocked. Some people have hoarded and even resold supplies for a quick profit; some have refused to follow public-health directives; some have tried to collect payments from those thrown out of work.

Many Canadians have no doubt also seen a cascade of headlines in recent years announcing the decline of trust in Western societies. We have been told that “2019 had the ‘highest level of democratic discontent’ since detailed global recording began in 1995,” that the quality of democracy is declining, while “growing political polarization has made the day-to-day work of governance … more difficult,” and that a “majority worldwide say their society is broken,” to cite just a few examples.

Compounded together as this pandemic accelerates, these concerns have left Canadians wondering whether we have the cultural and institutional resilience to respond effectively. Do we trust each other, our institutions and our leadership to work together to defeat this virus?

Leaving aside the question of whether these reports accurately capture trends unfolding elsewhere, it would be a mistake to assume that they are reliable guides to trends in Canada. Our surveys have found that we remain one of the most trusting societies in the world when it comes to our institutions and values – and so, most Canadians will surely react to this crisis exactly as good neighbours, co-workers and citizens should.

Support for Canada’s democracy is high and has been slowly rising over the past decade, from 70 per cent in 2010 to 76 per cent in 2019. Satisfaction with public services such as health care also currently sits at 75 per cent, which is higher than the average among members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The country has become less, not more, polarized; opinions among those on the left and right of the political spectrum (79 per cent and 78 per cent, respectively) have been converging in their satisfaction with our democracy.

Xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiment has weakened, as suggested by our October, 2019, survey that found 50 per cent of Canadians felt “too many immigrants do not adopt Canadian values,” the lowest proportion expressing this view since Environics began asking the question in 1993 (when 72 per cent voiced such concerns).

And even in the midst of heated disputes on energy and climate policies and other issues, two-thirds of Canadians told us they have a great deal or some confidence in our ability to resolve our internal differences, reflecting a majority view in all 13 provinces and territories.

If attitudes to our political system seem a bit abstract, consider these more concrete findings from a study of social capital we conducted in Toronto in 2018. At that time, most residents of Canada’s biggest city agreed that people in their neighbourhood can be trusted and that people in their community are willing to help their neighbours. Nine in 10 said people working together as a group could make a difference in solving problems in their community. And most expressed high levels of trust, not only in members of their own family, but also in the people they work or go to school with.

Perhaps most remarkably, a comparison to earlier research shows no erosion in these measures of social capital over the past decade, even after the arrival of more than one million newcomers from around the world. They have quickly become our trusted neighbours, too.

Having a trusting society does not mean having an uncritical one, either. Where once we nearly automatically deferred to political, business and religious elites, Canadians now greet election promises and corporate advertising with a healthy dose of skepticism. This is not a sign that society is broken – rather, it shows that it has matured.

To suggest that trust is declining in Canada not only ignores the available research, but risks counterproductively sowing doubt in our own minds about our institutions, our capacity for responsible leadership, our will for collective action and our instinct for mutual support.

Of course, trust alone cannot protect us from COVID-19. Nevertheless, it is worth acknowledging that we have a reservoir of trust to draw on as we navigate these unprecedented circumstances together. The wait for a vaccine may be long, but an extra dose of hope, courtesy of our fellow Canadians, will not hurt.

Source: The coronavirus pandemic will not dent the trust Canadians have in each other Michael Adams and Andrew Parkin

Last election marked shift in the type of growth Canadians are seeking

More interesting analysis on the recent election by Andrew Parkin of Environics Institute:

There is never any shortage of public opinion polls on the eve of an election. A steady stream of data sets up the electoral contest by gauging who is starting in a leading position and who is lagging at the back of the pack.

The main limitation of this type of “horserace” data is that it doesn’t help us anticipate what might happen next. To get a good sense of how the campaign might unfold, we need to know more about the public’s mood – what citizens are feeling good about, and what is keeping them from getting a good night’s sleep. Not that broader survey data on issues and outlook can foretell the eventual outcome with any degree certainty. Human actions and reactions will always disrupt the expected course of events, especially during election campaigns. But a good understanding of the wider context of public opinion on the eve of an election should minimize the extent of our surprise at what ultimately transpires.

This applies, for example, to the issue of inclusive growth – the notion that economic growth and the equitable distribution of its benefits should be seen as mutually reinforcing rather than mutually exclusive policy objectives. Talk of inclusive growth has animated international forums such as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Economic Forum for much of the last decade. In Canada it was a central preoccupation of the federal Liberal government that was elected in 2015.

While the term inclusive growth has only recently moved into the vernacular, we can still ask whether, as the government sought a second mandate in 2019, the public was feeling more or less included in the country’s prosperity, and whether historic fissures in Canadian society seem to be widening or closing.

At first glance, the data suggest that the public should have been fairly receptive in October 2019 to the incumbent Liberal government’s claim to have made growth more inclusive. At that time the proportion of Canadians citing the economy as the country’s most important problem had declined to 14 percent, the lowest level since the onset of the financial crisis in 2008. More Canadians were feeling positive about both the country’s and their own economic situation. The proportion of Canadians saying that it was a good time to find a job in the area where they live had jumped from 36 percent in 2015 to 61 percent in 2018. And the proportion describing their own incomes as inadequate had dropped 10 points (from 39 percent to 28 percent) over the course of the Liberals’ first mandate. As they headed back to the polls, they could hardly have wished for more (figure 1).

All these numbers, however, reflect national trends, and they obscure contrasting regional ones. The modest 5-point increase since 2014 in the proportion of Canadians with a favourable view of the country’s economic situation subsumed the much larger 22-point increase in Quebec, and a counter-acting 22-point drop in Alberta. In fact, over the course of five years (between 2014 and 2019 – a relatively short space of time), Quebec and Alberta had essentially switched places: in 2014 Quebec was the least economically optimistic and Alberta the most optimistic province; the reverse was true in 2019.

In Canada, the issue of inclusive growth is not just about equity across social groups, it is also about equity across regions.  Framed in this way, it was less of a “winning issue” for the incumbent government than they might otherwise have expected (figure 2).

No one who had these Alberta numbers in full view, then, would have been surprised that the Liberals were shut out of the province in terms of seats come election night. But the flip side of the story is also important. Going into the 2019 election campaign, it would have been useful if the opposition parties had thought harder about what they were offering voters in Quebec. This might have prompted them to go beyond a pitch based on the premise of how much harder it was getting to make ends meet. (At the city level, affordable housing and the rising cost of living were top issues for those living in Toronto and Vancouver, but not Montreal.)

A sober review of public opinion data as they pertain to notions of inclusion also helps explain something that didn’t happen during the 2019 election campaign. In the wake of increases in the number of refugees “irregularly” crossing the Canada-US border in Quebec and Manitoba, and the launching of the Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada, which had an overtly anti-immigration platform, the risk that immigration would emerge as a defining (and divisive) election issue appeared high. But it did not become a defining issue, largely because, in spite of some heated rhetoric on talk radio and social media, Canadians themselves have never felt more positively about immigration than they did on the eve of the 2019 campaign.

The proportion of Canadians who say there is too much immigration in Canada was trending downward, as was the proportion questioning the legitimacy of refugee claimants (figure 3). While in 2018 and the spring of 2019 one in two Canadians agreed that too many immigrants do not adopt Canadian values, this was the lowest figure ever recorded (in 1993, three in four Canadian held this view). Perhaps most importantly, heading into the election, in April 2019, only 3 percent of Canadians felt that immigration was the most important issue facing the country (a proportion that was nine times lower as that in the United States).

Further analysis also reveals that attitudes on immigration in Canada correlate less strongly with economic concerns than they do with general political outlook (that is to say, ideology). So despite the overall brighter mood in 2019, plenty of Canadians were anxious about the economy and their own financial situation as election day approached. But this anxiety propelled them to blame Ottawa insiders, not newly arrived outsiders. In retrospect, then, the table was not set for a heated debate about immigration, and it should have come as no surprise that the more a party pushed this issue to the fore, the worse they did on election night.

Looking back, however, there was one signal in the pre-election polls that might have warranted more attention. While fewer Canadians were expressing concerns about the economy, more were expressing concerns about the environment – and specially about climate change. In fact, by the spring of 2019, climate change had overtaken the economy as the top issue for Canadians for the first time since the onset of the economic crisis in 2008. That said, in spring 2019, the proportion of Canadians singling out climate change as their top issue was only 14 percent – up from 5 percent two years earlier, and tied in order of importance with the similar proportion expressing concern about the quality of government leadership.

At that time, there was no way of knowing whether the share of Canadians preoccupied with climate change was already peaking or just beginning to grow. It took a subsequent survey, conducted during the election campaign, to reveal the answer. We now know that the priorities of Canadians were evolving quickly over the course of 2019; by October, the proportion citing climate change as the country’s top problem had jumped a further 10 points, to reach 24 percent, while the proportion concerned with the either the economy or government leadership continued to fade. This trend was especially pronounced in Quebec, where the proportion preoccupied by climate change doubled from 18 percent to 37 percent between the spring and fall of 2019

So, heading into the 2019 election, Quebecers were less concerned about the economy or the cost of living than other Canadians – a pattern that the pre-election survey data made clear. What could perhaps have been better anticipated was the extent to which this was creating space for climate change to emerge as one of the defining issues of the campaign, in Quebec and beyond.

In retrospect, the election campaign was decided more by the issue of sustainable growth – the question of how to balance economic and environmental imperatives – than by that of inclusive growth, which is perhaps why the opposition parties’ strategy of approaching the carbon tax mostly as a pocket-book issue had limited appeal.

Source: Last election marked shift in the type of growth Canadians are seeking

The shifting lens through which Canadians see the Wet’suwet’en crisis

Interesting analysis by Michael Adams and Andrew Parkin:

Canadians have lived through many confrontations over Indigenous rights and resource development, but few have had such high stakes as the one that erupted last month and is still unfolding, with a proposed deal newly announced after weeks of rail blockades across the country as Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have protested the Coastal GasLink pipeline that would run through their territory in British Columbia. Hanging in the balance, depending on one’s perspective, are not only the rights of particular First Nations but the coastal environment, the livelihoods of people travelling or shipping by rail, Canada’s reputation as a reliable trading partner, the survival of the federal minority government and the future of reconciliation itself.

Also at stake are the hearts and minds of the Canadian public. Some worry that the prolonged blockades of roads and railways has put public buy-in to the reconciliation agenda at risk — and with good reason. A look back at survey data from 1990 shows that the Oka crisis did erode public support for Indigenous land claims. While few Canadians approved of how the federal and provincial governments handled the crisis, there was little sympathy for the Mohawk barricaders, either. Tellingly, the only actor in the Oka dispute whom the public did support was the army. Two-thirds of Canadians backed the decision to call the army in to deal with the situation.

But Canada is a very different country than it was 30 years ago. Using excessive force to bring down the barricades would likely have been seen by many Canadians as a strategy that is three decades out of date. It would also have set back the clock on years of slow but steady bridge-building.

One big change in the public’s mindset is the emergence of climate change as a major concern. At their heart, both the Oka crisis of 1990 and the current conflict are about Indigenous control over Indigenous lands. But the current conflict can also be framed as being about whether the need to move fossil fuels to market should continue to trump all other concerns. It comes at a time when more Canadians name climate change than name the economy as the most important issue facing the country. The interweaving of Indigenous self-determination with the fight against climate change has shifted the lens through which the public is gauging the federal government’s reaction to the crisis — and, as a result, has affected the government’s room to manoeuvre.

A second change has to do with the bumpy journey toward reconciliation. As distant as the end point of this journey may seem, it would be a mistake to think that the past several decades of public discussion has left Canadians no better informed than before. In fact, most Canadians now recognize the wrongs that Indigenous peoples have faced and support actions to redress those wrongs.

For instance, most Canadians believe that Indigenous peoples experience discrimination in our society and are disadvantaged in their standard of living. And overwhelming majorities support policies such as equalizing funding for Indigenous education and spending more to improve the quality of housing and drinking water in Indigenous communities.

More important, two in three Canadians believe that individuals like themselves have a role to play in efforts to bring about reconciliation. This points to a recognition that reconciliation is not just about what governments do; it is also about broadening understanding and promoting dialogue more widely across society.

Generational change will likely keep the momentum for reconciliation going. Almost two-thirds of non-Indigenous youth in Canada now have an awareness of the history of Indian residential schools. And young Canadians want to know more: over 80 percent agree that everyone will benefit from looking more closely at Indigenous perspectives on community, land and culture, and almost 90 percent agree that it is important to understand the true history of how Indigenous peoples have been treated by governments and society in this country.

None of this is to suggest that the public can be counted on to support those who disrupt the country’s transportation networks. There remains a gap between the public’s strong desire to see improvements in the treatment of Indigenous peoples in Canada, and its uncertainty about the nature and extent of Indigenous rights and what these mean in practice for resource development. And if the lines between peaceful protest, civil disobedience and resistance get more blurred, most may once again side in the short term with those entrusted to reimpose order.

But Canada has moved on from where it was in 1990 — before reconciliation entered the public’s lexicon. Canadians don’t just want things to get back to normal, they want things to get better. That is why the onus is on Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders alike to find a way out of this crisis that differs from what was done in the past.

Source: The shifting lens through which Canadians see the Wet’suwet’en crisis

Is there an urban-rural divide in Canada?

Nice summary analysis by Andrew Parkin of Environics Institute, and how regional differences tend to be more significant:

With Canada’s population increasingly concentrated in a small number of large metropolitan areas, the question often arises: do the values, interests and concerns of citizens in cities differ from those of their counterparts living in smaller cities or towns across the country? Is there a specific metropolitan mindset or set of experiences that distinguishes those living in these major urban centres from other Canadians?

To find answers, our  2019 Confederation of Tomorrow survey was used to compare public opinion across the country’s four largest metropolitan areas – Montreal, Toronto, Calgary-Edmonton (combined) and Vancouver – with that of people living in the rest of their respective provinces, and that of the rest of the Canadian population as a whole. Those four metropolitan areas together hold 43 percent of Canada’s total population. Calgary and Edmonton are combined to increase the survey sample, representing metropolitan Alberta. (Details of the survey and sample sizes for each city are reported at the end of this article, in chart 4.)

Government and the economy

On a variety of questions relating to the role of government and the state of the economy, there are many differences in opinion across the four major urban areas, and also many cases of similarities in views between each city and its surrounding non-metropolitan area. This highlights the continuing importance of regional differences across Canada, which overshadow differences between bigger cities and smaller towns.

In the wake of the economic downturn linked to the petroleum sector in Alberta, it’s not surprising that the mood in Calgary-Edmonton is bleak. Our survey in December 2018-January 2019 found that residents there are less likely to be satisfied with the way things are going in the country. They are also more likely to describe their household income as being “not enough”; and more concerned about job security (chart 1). (However, on the question of job security, Torontonians also express a higher than average level of concern). Those living in Calgary-Edmonton are also the least likely to say that governments have a positive impact on most people’s lives, and most likely to say that this impact is negative (chart 2). Montrealers stand out in exactly the opposite way: compared with residents of the other three city-regions, they are the most satisfied with the direction of the country, the least concerned about their incomes and job security, and the least likely to see government as having a negative impact.

While opinions in Montreal and Calgary-Edmonton are quite different from one another on these questions, they are, on the whole, not very different from residents in the rest of their respective provinces. In other words, non-metropolitan Quebecers sound more like Montrealers than like people who live in non-metropolitan areas of other provinces – and the same goes for non-metropolitan Albertans (whose opinions resemble those of residents of Calgary-Edmonton, not their non-metropolitan counterparts in other provinces).

In the first instance, this is likely because outlooks are shaped by regional economic conditions – currently, more positive in Quebec and more negative in Alberta – whose effects are felt both inside and outside of each region’s major cities. But there is evidence that provincial political cultures matter, too. For instance, Quebecers – whether in or outside of Montreal – are more likely than the national average to favour a larger government offering more services, but also more likely to favour a transfer of powers from the federal to their provincial government (chart 3). Albertans – whether in or outside of Calgary-Edmonton – are less likely than average to favour a larger government, but also (similarly to Quebecers) more likely to favour a transfer of powers from the federal to their provincial government. These differences in support for a larger or smaller role for government, and for a more centralized or decentralized federation, again are regional or provincial in nature – they appear to have little to do with whether or not one lives in one of the country’s major cities.

Diversity

While Canadians have become much more welcoming of immigrants and refugees over the past 25 years, our survey nonetheless finds that two in three (65 per cent) agree that there are too many immigrants coming into this country who are not adopting Canadian values. There is surprisingly little variation in views on this question across the country’s four major urban areas, or between these areas and the rest of the country. Agreement is only slightly lower than average in Toronto and Vancouver, and – with the exception of British Columbia – only slightly higher than average in areas of the country outside of the major urban centres. Quebecers, including Montrealers, are slightly more likely to agree that too many immigrants are not adopting Canadian values.

Canadians were also asked whether they agree that “a person who has a strong attachment to their own ethnic community is no less Canadian than anyone else,” or that “a person who has a strong attachment to their own religion is no less Canadian than anyone else.” When the responses for all big-city dwellers are compared to those of other Canadians, no significant differences are observed: about seven in 10 agree in all cases. There are no significant differences between the views of Quebecers in or outside of Montreal, Ontarians in or outside of Toronto, or British Columbians in or outside of Vancouver.

What stands out on these issues, then, is the absence of significant differences, either across the major cities, or between the major cities and smaller communities.

Policy priorities

The clearest evidence for the absence of a common big-city agenda in Canada comes from the response to the open-ended question about the most important problem facing Canadians today. The most frequently mentioned items differ significantly from city to city. And only one – the economy – appears among the top five problems mentioned in each of the four major urban areas.

  • In Vancouver, the item most frequently identified as the most important problem is affordable housing (18 per cent), followed by the economy (12 per cent), the cost of living (9 per cent), the environment (9 per cent), and poverty, homelessness and inequality (6 per cent).
  • In Calgary-Edmonton, the economy dominates the list, with 24 percent saying it is the most important problem facing Canadians today. This is followed by political representation (12 per cent), energy and pipelines (11 per cent), jobs and unemployment (8 per cent) and immigration (5 per cent).
  • In Toronto, the five most frequently mentioned problems are: the economy (12 per cent), affordable housing (9 per cent), political representation (8 per cent), jobs and unemployment (7 per cent) and the cost of living (7 per cent).
  • In Montreal, the most frequently mentioned problem is the environment (17 per cent), followed by immigration (12 per cent), political representation (9 per cent), health care (8 per cent) and the economy (7 per cent).

While the four major urban areas differ from one another in term of priorities, the question of whether each mirrors the rest of their respective provinces is harder to answer; the patterns are inconsistent. The biggest problem in the minds of Quebecers, regardless of whether they live in Montreal, is the environment. But immigration is cited as the country’s biggest problem by twice as many Montrealers as other Quebecers. Affordable housing is high on the list of problems for Torontonians, but not for other Ontarians; the case is reversed for immigration. British Columbians outside of Vancouver include political representation as well as energy and pipelines on their list of top problems, whereas Vancouverites include the cost of living and poverty, homelessness and inequality. Only in Alberta do the major urban areas and the rest of the province share an identical list of top five problems, most of which relate to the economy, energy and political representation.

Overall, then, while there are some issues that tend to be more of a concern to Canadians living in some big cities than those living outside of them, such as affordable housing or poverty, there are also many concerns that are shared, at least within the context of individual provinces. More broadly, there is greater variation in the list of concerns across provinces than there is between major urban areas and other communities within each province.

Summary

In short, the survey results show that the four major urban areas of Canada are neither consistently similar to one another, nor consistently different from the non-metropolitan areas of Canada. One reason for this is the overriding impact of regional and local economic conditions. Another factor is that there is simply more agreement across the country on some issues (such as diversity) than is often assumed. Finally, on questions of the size and role of government, provincial political cultures, such as those in Quebec and Alberta, appear to shape the views of those living both in and outside each province’s largest cities, again overriding any urban-rural differences.

Big cities share many common features and face many similar challenges as they continue to grow. But this does not mean that Canadians who live in these cities will always share the same opinions. There are many issues that unite us, and this holds true regardless of whether we live in smaller communities or larger ones. There are also issues on which we differ, but in many cases, these differences are of a more regional character than an urban-rural one.

This article is extracted from a larger report available from the Environics Institute at www.environicsinstitute.org.

The 2019 Confederation of Tomorrow survey of Canadians was conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research in partnership with the Canada West Foundation, the Mowat Centre, the Centre D’Analyse Politique – Constitution et Fédéralisme, the Institute for Research on Public Policy, and the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government at Saint Francis Xavier University. The research consisted of a national public opinion survey conducted online (in the provinces) and by telephone (in the territories) with a representative sample of 5,732 Canadians (ages 18 and over) between December 14, 2018 and January 16, 2019.

Sample sizes of Canadians who shared their views for these questions.

Source: 2019 Confederation of Tomorrow.

Source: Is there an urban-rural divide in Canada?

Adams and Parkin: Voters need to be suspicious of all the magical promises from politicians

Indeed:

Voters have changed. Deference to authority has diminished: People no longer respect political leaders’ ideas and judgment simply because of their status. Party loyalty, once an intergenerational commitment for many families, has waned. Increasingly, people shop around for appealing platforms and telegenic leaders, changing parties from election to election.

Little wonder, then, that politicians sometimes seem almost intimidated by these fickle voters. Almost no seat is truly safe; no segment of the electorate can be taken for granted. Each voter must be carefully wooed with tailored promises and inoffensive messages. This courting may be eminently democratic but there is a downside: Politicians have become even more shy about telling voters the hard truths they’d rather not hear.

Fewer than one-in-five Canadians favour a government that’s smaller and offers fewer services. So it’s not surprising that election campaigns focus on how to expand services such as child care, health care and pharmacare.

Meanwhile, many Canadians express concerns about the cost of living. A growing proportion say they’re dissatisfied with the availability of good, affordable housing in their community, for instance. And so voters – especially those in the coveted and ill-defined “middle class” – are offered new tax credits to help them keep up with expenses.

More services and lower taxes. If you think this sounds too good to be true, you’re out of step with most Canadian voters, who seem to see no contradiction.

Our society has changed a lot since Jean Chrétien won re-election, even after breaking his 1993 promise to axe the hated goods and services tax. He kept the tax, brought the budget back to balance and remained prime minister. But since Stephen Harper reduced the GST to 5 per cent from 7 per cent after his victory in 2006, no politician has dared suggest it be restored to the previous level to pay for all the services and programs that people want.

Similarly, faced with the squeeze of public finances in the wake of the economic downturn in Alberta, the new premier of that province is more comfortable pointing the finger at Quebec than entertaining the prospect of a provincial sales tax at home.

Even in the face of what we are now rightly calling a climate emergency, the main leaders vying for the keys to 24 Sussex are promising all gain with no pain.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax comes with a promise to send out rebate cheques that will ensure most Canadians are no worse off. The Conservatives think even that is too risky. They would prefer to find ways to sell green technology to developing countries, so Canadians can actually profit from the hard work of global emissions reduction.

Either or both of these might be workable policies. Yet, it is still remarkable that in an election taking place in 2019, political parties feel compelled to reassure voters that they can save the planet at no net cost to people like themselves.

Politics have always involved a little magical thinking, with politicians using spending to attract new voters before the election, and only sheepishly getting around to dealing with the inevitable costs later on. Very often, the buy-now-pay-later approach is premised on the assumption that current levels of growth and tax revenues will continue into the foreseeable future.

“Elect me and I’ll make sure we’re well braced for an inevitable downturn,” a candidate might say, but this tends not to do well in focus groups as a campaign slogan. With deficit financing back in fashion, a more freewheeling approach to politics is easier than ever – at least until interest rates balloon debt servicing costs and bring us back to the budget shocks of the mid-1990s.

If there is any real difference between today and past eras of political overpromise, it’s perhaps the absence of a traditional left-right schism between the two main parties that can conceivably form government after this Oct. 21 election.

Voters are being asked to parse the different redistributive effects of competing tax credits, the different scale of investments in public services and the different timelines for returning the budget to balance. This leaves the economists with lots to argue about.

The average voter, however, is left feeling both flattered with all the attention, and a little suspicious. As the two most powerful parties promise that Canadians can have it all, without sacrifice, surely some voters have a sneaking feeling there’s something important they’re not being told.

Adams and Parkin: Are Canadians losing confidence in their democracy?

Good counterpoint to some of the narratives circulating:

While views on the economy are mixed, the general trends in Canada, especially on attitudes towards democracy and diversity, remain positive.

There are few certainties heading into an election campaign; the outcome is up for grabs. The one thing many do feel certain of is that it is Canada’s turn to be buffeted by the winds of populism. As we prepare to cast our votes, we are feeling increasingly left behind economically, are becoming less welcoming of immigrants, and are losing confidence in our democracy.

The problem with this narrative is that it is, on the whole, not true. Consider how Canadians view their democracy. Three in four are currently satisfied with the way democracy works in Canada, a figure slightly higher than earlier in the decade. Seven in 10 say they have confidence in the honesty of our elections, a level of confidence that places Canada in the top tier of OECD countries. While confidence in elections has declined by 22 points since 2009 in the U.S., falling to 37 per cent, it has been holding steady in Canada.

When it comes to immigration, the trend is even more clear. While 35 per cent of Canadians say there are too many immigrants coming to Canada, far more – almost three in five – disagree. Most importantly, the proportion agreeing that there is too much immigration is close to the lowest figure ever. Twice as many felt that way 25 years ago.

Seven in 10 Canadians say they have confidence in the honesty of our elections, a level of confidence that places Canada in the top tier of OECD countries.

It is no doubt true that many Canadians prefer highly skilled immigrants over refugees walking over the border, and that some worry about whether new immigrants are integrating quickly enough into the Canadian mainstream. But the proportion holding these views has been trending downwards over time. At no time in the past 25 years have fewer Canadians felt that too many refugees are not legitimate, or that too many immigrants are not adopting Canadian values.

Earlier this year, a Gallup survey showed that immigration was the number one issue on the minds of our neighbours to the south.  At the same time, our Focus Canada survey showed that only three per cent of Canadians cited immigration as the biggest problem facing the country.

On the economy, the picture is more nuanced. Overall, Canadians are becoming more positive, with steady increases in the proportions saying that both the country’s economic situation and their own personal one is in good shape. The proportion saying that now is a good time to find a job is higher today than at any point since the recession hit in 2008.

The pattern, however, differs across the country, with dramatic improvements in Quebec’s economic outlook masking growing concerns in Alberta. And a generally more positive take on the economy is also combined with a weakening in satisfaction with our standard of living, particularly among younger Canadians (although satisfaction still remains high). The proportion of younger Canadians dissatisfied with the availability of good, affordable housing has doubled since the beginning of the decade.

While the messages on the economy are more mixed, the general trends in Canada, especially on attitudes towards democracy and diversity, remain positive. This is hardly an excuse to paper over other problems, for problems are it not hard to find. A growing number of Canadians are worried about climate change, and large majorities support action on reconciliation, including finally ensuring Indigenous communities have access to clean drinking water, adequate housing and quality education.

The purpose of questioning the narrative that Canada is getting sucked into the populist sinkhole is not to deflect attention from such issues, but precisely the opposite. It will be easier to devote the necessary energy to tackling the problems that we face if we remind ourselves of our strengths as a society and the civic resources we have at our disposal.

An election is the time for citizens, parties and leaders to set their sights on challenges, old and new.  We should be approaching this election more with confidence in ourselves as a civic society than with trepidation that we are losing faith in our democracy.

Source: Adams and Parkin: Are Canadians losing confidence in their democracy?

We’re speaking more languages, but is our landscape more diverse? – Andrew Parkin

Thoughtful questions by Parkin of the Mowat Centre regarding the apparent lack of interest in foreign language learning:

For those who see linguistic diversity as contributing to the vibrancy of society, there are several census results that stand out as positive developments. The first is that the number of Canadians who are bilingual in terms of English and French reached a record in 2016, at 18 per cent. The other is that a number of Indigenous youth are picking up an Indigenous language as a second language, even if they did not learn it as infants in the home. This is a promising sign for the preservation of Indigenous languages in Canada.

It is also encouraging that the proliferation of languages other than English and French has not come at the expense of an ability to communicate in one of Canada’s official languages. More than 98 per cent of Canadians say they can converse in either English or French.

The census numbers, however, also raise a couple of questions about how evenly our linguistic diversity is distributed across our society. In the first instance, our “increasingly diverse linguistic landscape” is mostly driven by immigration – by the arrival in Canada of adults who speak languages other than English or French, and the passing on of these languages in the home to their Canadian-born children. It is less clear that Canadians born to English-speaking parents are learning additional languages, whether out of personal interest or to gain an advantage in the global economy.

The bar for this internationally is set pretty high. In the European Union, for instance, two-thirds of working-age adults can speak a language other than the one they learned from their parents in the home. This means, in most cases, acquiring a second (if not a third) language at school. It helps, of course, that this second language is often English, the learning of which is made easier by its ubiquity in popular culture. The point remains that the focus on foreign languages in school pays off. European societies by and large are less ethnically diverse than Canada’s, but more multilingual in terms of the ability of most adults to speak more than one language.

The other cautionary note concerns official bilingualism. The proportion of Ontarians who can speak both English and French rose between 2011 and 2016, to just more than 11 per cent. The fact remains that among Ontarians who grew up in English-speaking households, only one in 12 can speak French. In an era where anyone aspiring to hold a position of national (and, increasingly, provincial) leadership must be bilingual, too many Ontarians are selecting themselves out of contention. It is not only math or coding skills that will open doors for young people – language skills will, too.

By all means, then, let’s celebrate our growing linguistic diversity. But in an officially bilingual country nestled in a globalized world, it is important to ensure that this diversity does not end up as a thick layer of multilingual icing on top of a unilingual cake. The ability to communicate in more than one language is something that can benefit everyone, and not just those with immigrant or French-speaking parents.

Source: We’re speaking more languages, but is our landscape more diverse? – The Globe and Mail

Canadian students are excelling: Don’t get complacent (OECD PISA)

Good overall assessment of the latest OECD PISA results and Canadian students and schools by Bonnie Schmidt and Andrew Parkin:

Canadians can be proud of our showing in the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment report, released Tuesday. We are one of only a handful of countries that places in the top tier in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in each of the three subjects tested: science, reading and math.

Canadian students not only exceeded the international average in science performance – they were among the best in the world in this subject. This is a positive result, given the diversity of our education systems and of our student population. Canada was also near the very top in reading, and remained in the top 10 in math. The OECD even singled Canada out for our ability to combine high achievement with a commitment to equity in education.

There is no gender gap in science performance in Canada, nor is there a gap between immigrant students and those born in Canada. Parents should welcome these findings.

Not only do Canadian students perform well in science, but they are also more likely than the OECD average to expect to have STEM careers (in science, technology, engineering and math) – 34 per cent of Canadian students have this expectation, compared with an international average of 25 per cent. This is good news for Canada and a testament to the many organizations across the country that help schools connect the dots between classroom science learning and the world of work.

But significant gender differences remain in terms of the specific types of STEM careers that boys and girls expect to have, with girls much more likely to expect careers in health sciences (29 per cent versus 10 per cent) and boys much more likely to expect careers in engineering (18 per cent versus 7 per cent) and information and communications technology (3.7 per cent in the ICT field versus 0.3 per cent).

While the PISA results do warrant celebration, we can’t become complacent. Challenges continue, not the least of which is figuring out how to continue evolving learning opportunities for Canadian youth so they can participate as citizens and in the labour market in a rapidly changing world.

And even though Canada stands out for its record in equity, some students still struggle to get the necessary attention. For example, PISA makes no reference to indigenous students. In addition, girls continue to significantly outperform boys in reading (though the gap narrows with digital reading) and, in some (but not all) provinces, boys outperform girls in math. Minority language classrooms (i.e. French learners outside Quebec and English learners in Quebec) also continue to lag behind.

Source: Canadian students are excelling: Don’t get complacent – The Globe and Mail