Ottawa Citizen
Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Most think politicians lie: poll

Environmental, business, military leaders inspire more confidence

Joan Bryden
The Ottawa Citizen

Canadians have almost as little confidence in political leaders as they do in the spiky-haired leaders of protest movements, a new poll suggests.

Three-quarters of the population also give political leaders a low rating for ethics and believe most leaders don't tell the truth.

The poll, conducted by Environics for the Centre for Research and Information on Canada, also suggests Canadians are losing confidence in their governments' ability to defend programs that are important to them. And most think governments have a negative impact, or none at all, on their lives.

The poll found 55 per cent of respondents had little or no confidence in political leaders. Forty-two per cent said they have some or a great deal of confidence. That represents a slow but steady improvement from the low of 19 per cent who professed any confidence in politicians in 1992, when the country was in recession and reeling from the second consecutive failure of constitutional talks.

Still, only the leaders of protest groups inspired less confidence than politicians today, with 59 per cent of respondents professing little or no confidence in protesters and 38 per cent expressing some confidence.

Environmental, business, military and religious leaders all inspired considerably more confidence than politicians, with 69 per cent expressing some or a great deal of confidence in environmental leaders, followed by business leaders (62 per cent) and military leaders (57 per cent).

Forty-nine per cent expressed confidence in religious leaders, but the same percentage had little or no confidence. Confidence in religious leaders has been on a steady decline since 1985, when 66 per cent expressed some confidence.

The findings are part of the fifth annual poll conducted for CRIC, an arm of the federally funded Canadian Unity Council, to track the evolving attitudes of Canadians on the federation and its institutions.

The poll of 2,939 adult Canadians was conducted Sept. 27-Oct. 16. Results from a sample this size are considered representative of the country as a whole within 1.8 percentage points, 19 times in 20.

The poll also found 77 per cent of Canadians gave political leaders a low or very low rating for honesty and ethical standards and 73 per cent believed leaders don't tell the truth or keep their promises. Moreover, 58 per cent worried that young people today have no good leaders or role models to look up to.

Still, Canadians have some empathy for politicians. Seventy-three per cent thought leaders often look bad because the media focuses on their mistakes and 72 per cent thought the job of political leaders has become more difficult in recent years. Sixty-two per cent thought their locally elected politicians were doing a good job serving the interests of their community.

The poll found a marked decline in confidence in the ability of the federal and provincial governments to work co-operatively, with 50 per cent saying the two levels of government have worked well together recently. That's a drop of 13 points since 1998.

Canadians' trust in governments to protect important programs has also plunged. When asked which level of government they trust most to protect programs, the most popular choice was "neither" (34 per cent, up 14 points from 2000, compared to 27 per cent who said both levels of government equally, 23 per cent who most trusted their provincial governments and 14 per cent who most trusted the federal government).

The poll also found Canadians split on government spending. Thirty-eight per cent believed any budget surpluses should be poured into social programs while 34 per cent, believed they should go to paying down debt.

Still, there were points of agreement. Fifty-two per cent believed governments should increase spending on health care, as opposed to limiting services (eight per cent) or allowing the private sector to provide some services to those who can afford it (38 per cent).

© Copyright 2002 The Ottawa Citizen