Canadians don’t have faith in their leaders, new Yahoo-Leger poll shows

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa November 7, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Canadians have very little confidence in any level of government, according to a Leger poll conducted on behalf of Yahoo Canada.

The poll, conducted in mid-October of 1,500 people across Canada, showed that only 14 per cent of us have a significant level of faith in our provincial and federal representatives. In fact, more than a quarter of respondents say they have absolutely no confidence in their provincial (25 per cent) and federal (28 per cent) leaders.

“There is a very low level of confidence with our government systems,” Leger’s Chief Marketing Officer Dave Scholz told Yahoo Canada News. “To have a quarter of Canadians saying they are not confident in their provincial or federal representatives – not at all confident – and half of Canadians saying at the most they are slightly confident, that doesn’t say a lot about what our politicians and our system are doing to make Canadians comfortable with the direction that we are going.”

The results paint a very dour picture of Canadian politics, with respondents showing clear disappointment in their leaders, from those in Ottawa all the way down to their local town councillors.

At a time when the Senate scandal, spending controversies and the personal and ethical failings of city mayors dominate the headlines, it is perhaps not surprising to learn that faith in government and respect for politicians has been shaken.

According to the study, a full 51 per cent of Canadians say they are not satisfied with the work of their provincial and federal governments. At the same time, only 42 per cent of us are not satisfied by the work being done by our mayors and councillors.

While that number is still far lower than those in government would prefer, the poll does underline a somewhat rosier image of municipal governments.

Scholz said it is likely that the satisfaction and confidence expressed in local governments comes from a better understanding in what they do. The duties of provincial governments aside from health care are somewhat unclear to average Canadians, whereas the more tangible responsibilities of local officials can be seen getting done.

“Municipalities are responsible for our waste collection, street cleaning and all those aspects that hit us on a regular daily basis, and cities pretty much continue to run. It is a little more nebulous what they are doing at a provincial and federal levels,” Scholz said.

“When we talk about confidence it also leads into satisfaction. We are more satisfied with our municipal governments because we know what to be satisfied about. We are least satisfied with the provincial government because … we don’t really know what they do.”

Leger’s results bear that out. According to the study, 40 per cent of Canadians feel their votes count most on the municipal level, while only 28 and 15 per cent feel their provincial and federal votes have an impact. A key exception is in the province of Quebec, where a series of municipal scandals has resulted in more residents feeling their votes are more important provincially (40 per cent) than their local governments (32 per cent).

Regardless, what it all adds up to is a trust deficit in Canadian politics, and it’s little wonder why fewer Canadians are actively participating in the democratic process by voting.

While a surprising 69 per cent of respondents claimed they voted in the last municipal election, only 55 per cent of those were between the ages of 18 and 34.

A small but certain portion of society has abandoned the idea of voting entirely, apparently out of a frustrated sense that the system either cannot or will not improve. Of those key 18-34 year-old voters, 18 per cent say they have already decided that they will not be voting in the next election.

The results of the Leger poll seem to underline a dissatisfaction in Canadian politics that has left voters, especially the younger generation, feeling uninspired and disconnected.

“I think we are going to see that number continue to dwindle,” Scholz said about the number of people who said they will not vote in the next municipal election.

“A lot of that has to do with confidence in elected officials and the governments we have. If we don’t have confidence in them, it is not a great thing but we tend to give up and not vote.”

(Statistics courtesy Leger/Yahoo Canada)