Power to the people

Elizabeth Brubaker

Several recent surveys have revealed that Canadians distrust federal politicians, feel they have little in common with them, and doubt they are equipped to address important issues.

An Environics survey released in November indicated that Canadians believe that central governments are ill-equipped to address major differences in opinion on important issues facing the country. Just 19 percent of those polled believe that federal politicians do a good job in balancing differences between competing interests most of the time. Another 48 percent believe they do a good job some of the time, 24 percent believe they do not do a good job very often, and 8 percent believe they never do a good job.

Canadians – especially rural residents – have more faith in their municipal councillors. Indeed, 43 percent of rural residents believe that their local representatives do a good job most of the time. (This confidence is not shared by urban residents – just 17 percent of those living in mid-size cities and 19 percent of those living in major urban centres believe that their local representatives do a good job most of the time.)

These findings complement the results of earlier surveys probing Canadians’ trust – or lack thereof – in politicians. In January, Ipsos Reid announced that Canadians rank politicians among the least trustworthy professionals: Just 10 percent trust federal politicians, while 17 percent trust municipal politicians.

Ipsos Reid provided a more detailed look at Canadians’ trust in July. Its poll showed that just seven percent very much trust the federal government to do the right thing, and another 36 percent somewhat trust it to do so. In contrast, 57 percent don’t trust the government to do the right thing. Again, people expressed greater confidence in municipal politicians: 57 percent either very much or somewhat trust local governments to do the right thing.

The poll also found that 84 percent of Canadians believe the political elite in Ottawa are not in tune with average Canadians. Forty-four percent believe federal politicians have nothing in common with them; another 51 percent believe they have only “a little” in common. Ipsos’s Darrell Bricker elaborated: “There’s a general feeling that the politicians of the country, especially in Ottawa, don’t get what’s happening in local communities. They just don’t feel connected.”

This disconnection between the Canadian people and Ottawa calls into question the legitimacy of federal decisions regarding the environment and natural resources. And it confirms the importance of Environment Probe’s model of “bottom-up environmentalism,” which decentralizes decision making and empowers individuals and communities.

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