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Something Canadians can agree on: making life better for indigenous people

Pollster Nik Nanos.

The Globe and Mail

Nik Nanos is The Globe and Mail's pollster and chairman of Nanos Research.

As Canadians watch the divisiveness of the U.S. election campaign and the Brexit fallout, a new survey by Nanos Research for the Banff Forum suggests that Canadians are ready to move in a different direction when it comes to public policy. Perhaps people are more ambitious for Canada as a nation than some may think.

Nanos Research tested opinions on a series of policy areas, including indigenous peoples, water, Canada's role in the world, and culture. The results suggest there are opportunities for the Liberal government to advance in some areas and other situations where it should tread lightly.

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First, asked to select the most urgent priority on indigenous issues, more than one in two Canadians (54 per cent) cited raising the standard of living for indigenous peoples to the same level as other Canadians, followed by ensuring that government decisions and the laws of Canada respect the legal rights of indigenous peoples (25 per cent).

Addressing indigenous issues was considered the top priority for Canadians on this issue, regardless of their age, gender or region.

Second, Canadians were also much more likely to agree on water issues, citing the preservation of water resources as the most urgent priority (53 per cent) compared with about 27 per cent of Canadians who named the better control of water use by the private sector as the most urgent priority.

While there was a consensus on water and indigenous peoples, views on Canada's role in the world were more of a mixed bag. When asked to identify the most urgent priority in this area, at the top of the list was human rights (34 per cent), followed by fighting terrorism and advancing more trade agreements (both at 27 per cent.) Strengthening the United Nations was only an urgent priority among a lowly 12 per cent of Canadians.

When it came to Canadian culture, the two most urgent priorities included creating an environment where Canadian culture is shared more broadly (40 per cent) and creating an environment where more businesses support arts and culture (28 per cent).

What are the key takeaways of the research? That the government's focus on lifting the standard of living of indigenous peoples and preserving water resources are considered the most urgent priorities for Canada. Likewise, initiatives that bolster the broader sharing of Canadian culture also resonate. The less certain areas for the government to tread relate to Canada's role in the world. A focus on human rights was seen as more important than new trade agreements, and a UN focus was at the bottom of the priority list.

The irony is that the priorities and opinions cited by Canadians are in stark contrast to what is happening in both the United States and the United Kingdom, where aspirational politics has taken a back seat to fractious emotional dialogue. While other countries seem bent on fighting the political battles of the past, Canadians are focused more on the future.

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