A majority of Canadians support citizen-driven causes such as British Columbia’s referendum on the harmonized sales tax, the Occupy movement and Quebec’s student strikes, and believe average people should push politicians into action, a new survey suggests.
The findings – part of a research project by the Environics Institute on the nation’s values, which will be presented this week at the Trudeau Foundation’s annual conference in Edmonton – speak to an undercurrent of restlessness among Canadians, said Environics executive director Keith Neuman.
Canadians, he said, are relying less on governments to solve problems by themselves, and are looking toward other methods of political participation.
“It does suggest there is a bit of frustration. The fact really puts the pressure on governments and politicians to think about how they build public confidence in institutions.”
This frustration may be the polite, Canadian manifestation of the sort of angst that has swept the Western world – most notably Greece – in the wake of a weak global economy, he said.
Seventy-six per cent of respondents strongly agreed Canadians should let politicians know what they think. On a separate question, only 20 per cent said that politicians usually do a good job balancing competing interests, while some 50 per cent said governments do so only some of the time.
When asked about specific grassroots movements, 86 per cent said they supported B.C.’s HST referendum, which saw the tax turfed two summers ago; 62 per cent backed Occupy, when people camped out in public squares and parks to protest the unequal distribution of wealth. Support for this spring’s student demonstrations over tuition fees in Quebec was softer, but 56 per cent of respondents supported the protests.
The survey also gauged support for 12 different values, ranging from universal health care to protecting the environment. Among these, support was highest for equality between men and women. Surprisingly, the value that scored lowest was cutting taxes, despite its perennial presence as an election issue.
“If you think about the discourse in this country over the last decade, it really has been about taxpayers,” said University of Alberta sociology professor Harvey Krahn. “What the politicians are saying is different than what people have been saying.”
Pierre-Gerlier Forest, president of the Trudeau Foundation, said the split support on some of the values – taxes and immigration, for instance – suggests the country is more divided than Canadians often think.
On the question of grassroots democracy, he said the country is still generally supportive of governments but, when elected officials fail to take action, they look to citizens to step up. It was telling, he said, that support for the HST referendum, which used an established process, was higher than for student strikes and Occupy, which were more raucous.
“I think it’s related to the way a movement presents itself,” he said.
The poll was conducted in October, via telephone interview, with 2,001 adult Canadians. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled Keith Neuman's surname. This online version has been corrected.