Canadians have little confidence in governments to solve issues that matter most: Study

TheGlobeandMail.com – news/politics
25 July 2012.   John Ibbitson

An important new study reveals a potent disconnect between the issues that matter most to Canadians and their confidence that government can deliver.

From improving health care to balancing budgets, the more Canadians want to see things get better, the less they believe things will.

“There are many issues that are important to Canadians,” observed pollster Nik Nanos. “But there isn’t a lot of confidence in finding solutions.”

The results of the survey should sound an alarm for anyone who cares about the direction Canada is taking. And it explains why the federal Conservatives win election after election in the face of a divided and confused opposition.

Nanos Research and the Institute for Research on Public Policy co-produced the study. Two thousand Canadians were asked to rate the major issues of the day, and to rate their confidence in the ability of government – whether federal, provincial or municipal – to handle those issues.

A copy of the study, which is being released Wednesday, was provided in advance to The Globe and Mail. Mr. Nanos divided the responses into what he calls “transformative” versus “transactional” issues.

The most powerful issues, where voters place a high priority on transformative change, include preserving and improving the quality of public health care, balancing government budgets and coping with an aging population.

Yet when voters were asked how confident they were “in our ability to find solutions” to these high-priority problems, more voters had no confidence at all than had high levels of confidence.

“When we look at transformative issues such as health care, such as the aging population…there’s not a lot of confidence in our ability to find solutions,” Mr. Nanos said. “But there tends to be a higher level of confidence in public policy issues that are more transactional.”

These transactional, or more incremental, issues include developing Canada’s natural resources, policing the border, trading with other nations, and improving infrastructure, such as roads and bridges.

“These issues are less important to Canadians,” Mr. Nanos concluded, “but there’s more confidence in the ability to find a solution.”

Only in the area of preserving safe communities did voters assign a high importance while also being reasonably confident that governments could do the job.

On improving the quality of life for Canada’s first nations, most Canadians appear not to care and not to believe anything can be done.

The implications for how governments govern and planners plan are profound. For example, before any political party proposes changes aimed at improving the quality of long-term care for the elderly, they must confront the fact that people don’t believe their proposals will succeed. Mr. Nanos calls it “public policy futility.”

Bitter experience has made citizens wary of anyone who promises to provide more doctors and improve classroom education while balancing the books.

This is particularly uncomfortable news for socially progressive parties.

Transformative issues, such as health care, “tend to be more issues of the left,” Mr. Nanos observed, “because it’s about changing society, while many right-wing issues are about optimizing society: How can we create more jobs; how can we create wealth?”

He calls this “utilitarian public policy.”

This may help explain why the Harper government has avoided imposing standards for social policy, including health care, on the provinces, while focusing on delivering results in areas where voters at least have some hope that results could be delivered.

The Conservatives have made resource development a top priority; they are negotiating trade deals in Europe and Asia, and Mr. Harper signed a border accord with American President Barack Obama last year.

And the Tories have made fighting crime a signature issue.

Of course, voters could become more optimistic about the ability of politicians to deliver transformative change. But the politicians need to prove themselves first.

People, for example, are highly doubtful that governments can balance the books. There is probably only one way to convince them: balance the books.

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1 Comment

  1. Jessie Cartwright

    This article has raised a considerable opinion within me that I would not have thought existed until coming upon it. I believe citizens today put all their hopes and desires of change on politicians and the government. If citizens have such strong opinions and beliefs about what the major issues of our society are and how to deal with them then why aren’t they taking any responsibility in attempting to improve these issues themselves? Politicians and the government may have the ultimate power to document legal changes in the big realm of things, but citizens themselves can make a difference in the issues they believe in that need improvements in their own communities. If more citizens are active in political relations and promote awareness about these issues in their own communities it would provide knowledge to other society members and get more people involved in making improvements and not relying ultimately on politicians and blaming the government when changes do not occur.
    Also, this article emphasizes that citizens do not have confidence in their government in relation to major issues of our country. I see this as an issue because not once did the article mention why citizens might feel the way that they do. Therefore, I find it more reasonable to emphasize why citizens may lack confidence in our politicians in order to increase their confidence that ultimately allows politicians to be able to make such improvements. For major issues to be improved government/politicians need the confidence of their society that they will be able to provide these improvements. Hence, with what I stated in the above paragraph, with more people becoming aware of the issues and helping politicians to create change in their own communities is when politicians can really do their jobs and success can be achieved.

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