At first glance, Canada ranks as a relative boy scout in a new report benchmarking global corruption. Only 3 per cent of Canadians admit paying a bribe last year, scoring among an elite group of upright nations. But a closer look reveals a worrisome lack of trust in public officials, and considerable resignation to presumed crookedness.
Canadians surveyed in Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer 2013 are most gravely concerned about the honesty of their political parties – 62 per cent of respondents think they are corrupt. That may come as no great shock to some, especially as Quebec’s Charbonneau corruption inquiry trudges on, implicating political figures in unseemly, even gangsterish behaviour.
But nearly half of those surveyed also assume that corruption affects Canadian business (48 per cent) and Parliament (47 per cent). One in four believes it taints health-care workers and judges – perhaps with good reason, as 3 per cent of respondents said they had bribed the judiciary last year. Some 39 per cent suspect corruption skews the media, and 20 per cent think even education systems are not immune.
A measure of skepticism may be healthy; one wouldn’t wish for naiveté. But is Canadians’ trust in their public institutions really so low? According to the report, we presume a higher degree of corruption in our legislatures, businesses and military than respondents from Bangladesh suspect in theirs – and 39 per cent of Bangladeshis surveyed admitted to paying a bribe last year. That should serve as a wake-up call for us to wonder why.
Canada’s results have hardly changed from the last Corruption Barometer, tallied in 2011, and they seem unlikely to improve next year: These latest figures – surveying 114,000 people in 107 countries, including 1,000 Canadians – were gathered before corruption allegations began toppling Quebec mayors from office like dominoes.
There is ample good news for Canada. Its bribery rates were lower than those in the United States (7 per cent) and the United Kingdom, and pale when compared with rampant corruption recorded in several African and Asian nations. More than 90 per cent of Canadians also said they would be willing to report graft or malfeasance.
But most people surveyed, including a majority of Canadians, believe their country has grown more corrupt over the past two years. Meanwhile, more than a quarter of Canada’s respondents feel ordinary citizens cannot make a difference in fighting corruption – a higher proportion than in many other countries.
Our public institutions are only as strong as the faith we place in them. To the extent that they betray that trust, we cannot afford to be complacent.