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opinion

Nik Nanos is the chief data scientist at Nanos Research, a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington and the official pollster for The Globe and Mail and CTV News.

If the future belongs to those who give the next generation reason for hope, as asserted by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, we are on a path to failure.

Young people are dour about the future. Confidence in institutions is on the decline and a significant number believe Canada is on the wrong economic track.

For the past three years, Nanos has tracked satisfaction with Canada and confidence in institutions. In 2021, Canada scored a satisfaction rating of 7.2 out of 10. In 2022, this dropped to 6.8. Now, it is at a dismal 6.6.

People under the age of 35 have the most troubling view of the country: They rate Canada a 5.8 – the equivalent of a D letter grade. This demographic is usually the most optimistic in tone – they are embarking on their careers, have minimal debt and are usually healthy.

But not only is their overall view of the country dour, they are the least likely to see any of our institutions as contributing to making Canada a better country compared with respondents age 35 or older.

When it comes to institutions and whether they are contributing to making Canada a better country, 10 out of 11 registered declines. The only institution that registered noticeable improvements since 2021 was the office of the Governor-General, but even those numbers were not strong overall. Institutions that garnered the most positive views were universities and colleges (7.3) and our health care system (7.0).

Institutions that contribute to make Canada

a better country (mean rates out of 10)

2021

2022

2023

8

7.9

7.3

7.3

7.1

7

Universities and colleges

Health care system

7.4

7.1

6.7

6.5

6.5

6.5

Charities

Supreme Court

7.1

6.9

6.5

6.4

6.4

6.3

Canadian Armed Forces

Arts and cultural

organizations

6.3

6.2

5.9

5.8

5.7

5.6

House of Commons

The RCMP

5.7

5.2

4.9

4.2

4.1

3.6

Prime Minister

Senate

7.2

6.8

6.6

3.6

3.2

2.9

Satisfaction with

Canada as a country

Governor General

Institutions that contribute to make Canada

a better country (mean rates out of 10)

2021

2022

2023

8

7.9

7.3

7.3

7.1

7

Universities and colleges

Health care system

7.4

7.1

6.7

6.5

6.5

6.5

Charities

Supreme Court

7.1

6.9

6.5

6.4

6.4

6.3

Canadian Armed Forces

Arts and cultural

organizations

6.3

6.2

5.9

5.8

5.7

5.6

House of Commons

The RCMP

5.7

5.2

4.9

4.2

4.1

3.6

Prime Minister

Senate

7.2

6.8

6.6

3.6

3.2

2.9

Satisfaction with

Canada as a country

Governor General

Institutions that contribute to make Canada a better country (mean rates out of 10)

2021

2022

2023

8

7.9

7.4

7.3

7.3

7.1

7.1

7

6.7

6.5

6.5

6.5

Universities and colleges

Health care system

Charities

Supreme Court

7.1

6.9

6.5

6.4

6.4

6.3

6.3

6.2

5.9

5.8

5.7

5.6

House of Commons

Canadian Armed Forces

Arts and cultural

organizations

The RCMP

7.2

6.8

6.6

5.7

5.2

4.9

4.2

4.1

3.6

3.6

3.2

2.9

Satisfaction with

Canada as a country

Prime Minister

Senate

Governor General

Meanwhile, according to research for the Coalition for a Better Future, results were equally bleak when people were asked whether Canada’s economy is moving in the right or wrong direction.

When asked if the country is heading in the right or wrong direction when it comes to making sure Canadians have a high standard of living, 50 per cent of respondents said wrong direction compared with 29 per cent who said right. That sentiment was even more pessimistic among Canadians aged 18 to 34, with 58 per cent of them believing the country is headed in the wrong direction, compared with 44 per cent of people aged 55 and over.

When surveyed about strong economic growth, 37 per cent of people said the country is headed in the wrong direction – a number that rises to 47 per cent when it comes to young Canadians.

Considering Ottawa’s focus on climate change, innovation and economic growth, the numbers speak to a malaise. There are no clearly positive views that we are moving in the right direction on any of these measures.

Perceptions about Canada’s leadership in the fight against climate change are net negative (41 per cent wrong direction, 36 per cent right direction), while views are only marginally positive when it comes to making investments in innovation to be competitive on the world stage (38 per cent right direction, 32 per cent wrong direction).

The most positive responses came when people were asked if Canada’s economic policies provide equal opportunities regardless of race, gender and other identities. People were more than twice as likely to say we are moving in the right direction (53 per cent) compared with the wrong direction (23 per cent).

Is Canada moving in the right direction?

Right direction

Wrong direction

Unsure

Canada providing fair economic policies for Canadians

53%

23

24

Canada investing in innovation

38%

32

30

Canadas leadership in the fight against climate change

36%

41

23

Canada having strong economic growth

34%

37

29

Ensuring Canadians have a high standard of living

29%

50

22

Note: Numbers may not add up to 100 because of rounding.

Is Canada moving in the right direction?

Right direction

Wrong direction

Unsure

Canada providing fair economic policies for Canadians

53%

23

24

Canada investing in innovation

38%

32

30

Canadas leadership in the fight against climate change

36%

41

23

Canada having strong economic growth

34%

37

29

Ensuring Canadians have a high standard of living

29%

50

22

Note: Numbers may not add up to 100 because of rounding.

Is Canada moving in the right direction?

Right direction

Wrong direction

Unsure

Canada providing fair economic policies for Canadians

53%

23

24

Canada investing in innovation

38%

32

30

Canadas leadership in the fight against climate change

36%

41

23

Canada having strong economic growth

34%

37

29

Ensuring Canadians have a high standard of living

29%

50

22

Note: Numbers may not add up to 100 because of rounding.

Over all, though, Canadians are increasingly less satisfied about the country and are fundamentally not positive about the country’s direction. Confidence in many of our institutions is remains tepid. What is the path forward?

First, Canada needs a strong and clear prosperity narrative. In the past, parents could tell their kids what subjects to take in school to increase the likelihood of getting a job. Study software programming; learn a trade; pick up languages to participate in the global economy. Do those things and you have a chance to have the same or even a better standard of living than your parents?

But parents now face the spectre of a lower standard of living for their children. Housing is unaffordable, a job for life is a rarity and the world is more unstable now than it has been in more than a generation. Developing a prosperity narrative is the first step in creating hope.

Second, Canadians need to understand how they can participate in any future prosperity. When governments trumpet artificial intelligence, many Canadians may feel it is a threat, rather than an opportunity. Artificial intelligence is changing work, but how many jobs will it create?

Finally, it is clear that we need to start a national conversation around global competitiveness and how to create the type of society we want. This conversation must be driven by those young Canadians who are now the most cynical, anxious and pessimistic.

The collision of an aging population requiring increasing health care services that are to be paid for by younger working-aged people with potentially fewer job opportunities will fuel further dissatisfaction.

If you think things are bad now, we should brace ourselves for darker times – unless we mobilize around a common sense of purpose to create hope and economic opportunities all Canadians can enjoy.

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