Dis­trust me­dia, pol­i­tics? Start act­ing like a cit­i­zen

The Peterborough Examiner - - OPINION - TERRY GLAVIN Terry Glavi­nis an au­thor and jour­nal­ist.

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.

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