Fourth annual Proof Inc. CanTrust Index reveals drop in trust levels across all categories

TORONTO– After three years of stability, the 2019 Proof Inc. CanTrust Index reveals a significant drop in Canadians’ trust in major institutions, organizations, leaders and many sources of information. Overall, the study saw a decline in the average trust score for all institutions from 45 in 2018 to 39 in 2019.

“Until this year, we could trust Canada to be different as other parts of the world fell into fear and cynicism,” said Proof Inc. CEO, Bruce MacLellan. “Our new study suggests that cracks are appearing in Canada’s trust foundation.”

Organizational trust declines

Trust in organizations declined from 2018 to 2019 in every category measured. Trust in the news media fell from 51 per cent to 40 per cent and large corporations from 28 per cent to 20 per cent. Not-for-profits, governments and small/medium-sized businesses saw declines of eight, five and nine per cent, respectively.

Two of the most fundamental democratic institutions also saw a significant decline in trust. Trust in the court system/judges dropped four per cent to 51 per cent. Canadians’ trust in the election system dipped to just 47 per cent. New to the study this year was a measure of trust in Parliament, which received a score of only 39 per cent. Trust in the police remains relatively strong, with local police services holding steady at 64 per cent and trust in the RCMP dipping just slightly to 62 per cent.

“From economic prosperity to democratic government, trust is the underlying foundation on which our society is built and this trust is slipping,” said MacLellan. “Canada is at an inflection point. Leaders have a choice: stem the decline and become trust builders or set the house on fire and become trust destroyers.”

The main street of mistrust: politics and geography

The Proof Inc. CanTrust Index reveals that while trust levels are lower across the board, the trust deficit is most pronounced along political and geographic lines.

Specifically, the data show that Conservative-leaning respondents – and to a lesser extent, NDP-leaning respondents – are less trusting in almost every institution and system measured in the CanTrust Index. Conservative trust in news media stands at 33 per cent compared to 40 per cent among the overall population. Trust in governments is 36 per cent among Canadians, but only 21 per cent among Conservative-leaning respondents. Only 30 per cent of Conservative-leaning respondents believe that overall, people can be trusted, compared to a 40 per cent average among Canadians overall.

In contrast, Liberal-leaning respondents have higher than average trust levels: 43 per cent trust news media, 63 per cent trust governments and 50 per cent say that overall, people can be trusted.

“Philosophically, you’d expect small-c conservatives to have less trust in government and more trust in private enterprise,” said Greg MacEachern, Senior Vice President at Proof Strategies. “Yet while Conservative-leaning respondents do have higher trust in small and medium-sized businesses, when it comes to trust in large corporations, they’re as mistrustful as the average Canadian.”

With an election around the corner, low trust levels should concern leaders attempting to connect with unaffiliated voters. Finding a means of connecting is all the more difficult with fewer than half of Canadians saying that they trust independent news media to contribute to an honest debate about candidates’ positions on issues of the day.

Geographically, Albertans demonstrate lower levels of trust in most institutions, including private enterprise and government. Only 16 per cent of Albertans trust large corporations versus 20 per cent of Canadians and 32 per cent of Quebecers. Only 22 per cent of Albertans trust governments, compared to 36 per cent of Canadians overall and 39 per cent of Ontarians.

“In recent years, there has been a sense that it’s Alberta against the rest of Canada,” said MacEachern. “With a suffering economy, efforts to build pipelines stymied by court rulings and counterparts in other provinces, and no simple mechanism for progress, residents of Alberta are losing faith.”

Newcomers a bulwark…for a time

For the second year in a row, newcomers who have been in Canada for fewer than 15 years are more likely to trust everything from leaders and institutions to brands and content. However, at the 15-year mark, the CanTrust Index reveals that this window of trust closes and their trust levels decline to those seen among naturally born Canadians, or even lower.

CEOs and senior bosses lose ground to Mayors; trust in Premiers remains lowest

When it comes to trust in the leaders in their lives, for the first time, Canadians scored their own CEO or most senior boss (45 per cent) lower than their local Mayor (52 per cent). Following is the Prime Minister at 40 per cent, down six per cent. Once again, Premiers ranked last at 34 per cent, pulled down significantly by Ontarians at 22 per cent despite a change in government since the 2018 study.

Distributing trust

In terms of getting the message to Canadians, familiarity breeds trust – recommendations by someone you know or word of mouth (76 per cent) and sampling a product or service oneself (75 per cent) remain the most trusted sources of information. Despite falling trust in news media organizations, editorial content or stories in media like newspapers, TV, radio or online news sites remains the third most trusted source of information, with a trust score of 51 per cent.

Arresting the decline

“At a time when the state of trust seems like a race to the bottom, clear opportunities are emerging for leaders and organizations to rise to the top,” said Vanessa Eaton, Senior Vice President at Proof Inc. “Open and transparent communication, identifying and leading with values, and creating a connection through community are critical trust builders, but they have to be real and they have to be consistent. There are no shortcuts to long-term trust.”

For organizations, the top three trust builders are creating jobs/investing in local communities (73 per cent), leadership that is accessible and openly communicates (70 per cent), and standing for causes and values that a person believes in (69 per cent). For leaders, Canadians rank honesty (73 per cent), integrity (61 per cent) and transparency (43 per cent) as the three most important traits that drive trust.

With almost 300 awards for client work and industry leadership, the independently-owned Proof family of companies (Proof Inc., Proof Experiences Inc., Proof Strategies) have more than 175 staff members in offices in Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver and Washington, DC. Annual fee income exceeded $30 million in 2018. The firm’s strategic approach is guided by data-driven research, deep subject expertise, smart creative and meticulous measurement. A corporate leader in the age of climate change, Proof Inc. has been carbon neutral since 2008.

The Proof Inc. CanTrust Index is an annual study of trust levels of Canadians and the features that make up Canada. We study and analyze topics, events and population segments unique to Canada – Quebec residents, newcomers to Canada, seniors, political party supporters and where people reside (large city versus small town). The 2019 Proof Inc. CanTrust Index, based upon an annual online survey of a sample of 1,543 Canadians 18+ years of age, was conducted February 7 – 24, 2019. It is nationally representative by region, age and gender.

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