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opinion

Lisa Kimmel is chair and CEO of Edelman Canada and Latin America

When we take the temperature of our country, Canada appears to be doing well. Our labour market continues to expand with low unemployment rates and job growth. The housing market is strong and the stock market is delivering positive returns. Yet, the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer, a global study measuring trust in government, business, non-governmental organizations and the media, reveals a different story.

Our research shows that trust is down this year across every institution and every industry sector. At a time when more than three quarters of Canadian employees fear they will lose their job because of a variety of factors such as technological change, a looming recession and jobs being moved overseas, Canadians don’t have confidence in their leaders to address the challenge and are looking elsewhere for solutions.

Canadians did not find one institution to be both competent and ethical – a combination of attributes they see as necessary to earn the trust of the public. Nearly two in three Canadians do not have confidence that chief executives and government will successfully address the country’s challenges. At the same time, Canadians are yearning for leadership. In the past two years, the percentage of Canadians saying company CEOs should take the lead on change has increased from 68 per cent to 80 per cent.

Trust inequality also persists in Canada. This year, we saw the trust gap between the informed public and the mass population drop from a high of 20 points in 2019 to 16 points in 2020. The reason we saw that number fall is because trust among the informed public is dropping more rapidly than trust among the mass population.

This suggests that this group of Canadians could be feeling underlying tensions at play and unease around the future of the economy. These fears are influenced by trade uncertainty and a tense relationship with China. Despite growth signs, provinces such as Alberta continue to experience a prolonged downturn. And many Canadians still feel they won’t be better off in the future. In fact, only 35 per cent of Canadians believe they’ll be better off in five years’ time.

Canadians also told us that the work of institutions must consider all the dimensions of trust. It’s not enough to be competent in the daily work of government, business, media or non-governmental organizations. Canadians say integrity, dependability and purpose are what make all the difference in trusted institutions. In a rapidly changing world, Canadians intuitively understand that ethics must be the priority. It’s time to do the right thing not just to earn the trust of Canadians, but because it’s good for business.

To build confidence, institutions must also work together to tackle the issues that Canadians are concerned about. When it comes to the future of work, government is most trusted to protect gig workers, while business is most trusted to facilitate work-force retraining. These issues are intertwined and there is clearly an opportunity for both parties to work together.

Lastly, the expectations of leadership have evolved. The characteristics that defined a trusted institution in the past are not the ones that make a trusted institution today. Today’s leaders are expected to lead with purpose and to address the issues that affect their communities and stakeholders, not just shareholders. For our institutions to build and maintain trust, we must embrace a new leadership model that prioritizes these behaviours. The future prosperity of our country depends on our ability to rise to the challenge.