Distrust media, politics? Start acting like a citizen
Canada has reached a populism tipping point and Canadians can no longer count themselves immune from the upheavals underway around the world, the global Edelman Trust Barometer revealed this week. For the first time in the 17 years that Edelman has been measuring the public’s trust in major institutions in 28 countries, Canadians have fallen into the category of “distrusters.” But don’t head for the hills yet. Edelman’s findings will be disturbing if you take the view that distrust of government is always a bad thing, such distrust is “populism,” and populism must manifest as a dark and retrograde force of the kind that bore Donald Trump into the American presidency. But hold on.
Leading up to the 2015 Canadian federal election, the Environics Institute and the Institute on Governance undertook a survey that showed one in three Canadians held a deep distrust of Parliament and nearly seven in 10 Canadians were worried the parties were going to rig the vote. But it didn’t give us a Canadian Trump. It gave us Justin Trudeau and a Liberal majority.
In several causes of distrust and disaffection — corruption, globalization, eroding social values, immigration and the pace of innovation — the Edelman barometer shows Canadian anxiety levels well below the stress thresholds Americans have been enduring.
The global patterns turned up by Edelman mirror the global findings for 2016 in the annual Freedom House report released a few days ago. Its roundup notes 2016 was the 11th year in a row of declines in freedom around the world, and for the first time, the list of countries undergoing setbacks in civil and political rights was dominated by democracies, such as the U.S., Brazil and France.
According to the Trust Barometer, about half of us believe that an “influx” of immigrants would be damaging to “the economy and national culture” of the country.
But when did this “influx” happen? Canada took in about 40,000 Syrian refugees over the past year or so, but every year since 1979, Canada has taken in more than 27,000 refugees, on average. Over the past 15 years or so, roughly 250,000 immigrants have settled in Canada, on average, each year. The target for 2017 is 300,000.
That’s not much of an “influx,” and this is where some of the most telling data emerges. There’s a 15-point spread in the “institutional trust” levels separating most Canadians from “well-informed” Canadians. More than half of us say we don’t listen to people or groups we disagree with. We’re 3½ times as likely to ignore information that challenges our opinions. Distrust of conventional news media is rising, but so is distrust of social media.
As for the “tipping point” that has caused Canada to slip into the rank of “distrusters,” it turns out to mean Canada has dropped to a place about halfway along the 28-country scale.
Roughly 55 per cent of Canadians feel the system isn’t working for them — which is atrocious, but lower than among Americans, Irish, Australians, Germans, British and French.
The Trust Barometer confirms the trend toward ennui. But some caution should be taken before leaping to conclusions about Canada.
About 60 per cent of Canadians distrust politicians. About half say globalization is headed in the wrong direction, but that’s not so different from what the Liberals say. One in three say they’d back politicians even if they tend toward exaggeration, but when was it otherwise?
A healthy distrust of “experts,” the media, government and the business class is not a bad thing, but democracy is in a shambles the world round, and it’s not going to get better by heading for the hills, or listening only to people you agree with. You’re a citizen. Act like one. Get out of your echo chamber.