2016 Public Governance Survey: Institute on Governance/Environics Institute
In an increasingly volatile world, Canada is a comparative oasis of peace, order, and good government. Where other countries may be seeking radical reform of their existing political orders, as suggested by the Brexit referendum in the UK and the rise of Donald Trump in the US, Canadians appear to be seeking incremental reforms to a system they believe to be functioning reasonably well. Where citizens in other countries may be radically disillusioned by their public institutions, Canadians on the whole, are not. That said, Canadian governance is far from perfect, and Canadians do want change. How do contemporary Canadians view their federal institutions? What changes would they like to see?
This is the second in a series of surveys on public governance conducted by the Environics Institute and the Institute on Governance, and some of the questions on the first survey (November 2014) were repeated on this one to identify how opinions may have changed over time.
Trust in Government. Within a few short months of the election of a new federal government, there has been a significant uptick in trust in government. A clear majority of Canadians currently believes that the government in Ottawa is generally working, rather than broken. This may be due to the ‘Trudeau effect’, as it has come to be known, and while the phenomenon may signal an important change in public opinion, only time will tell if this new trust will last. This rise in trust also suggests that Canadians are broadly satisfied with their institutions, and believe they generally work well when properly managed.
Democratic Reform. However, Canadians also believe there is room for improvement in how Canada is governed, even if they are less certain about the precise nature of the changes required. While Canadians broadly support electoral reform, for example, there is no clear consensus on how it should be achieved. A majority supports online voting, and reform of election financing laws, but there is no consensus on how best to replace the ‘first past the post’ system. A majority favours changes to our governing institutions, but only one in four Canadians believes these should be major in scope. None of the alternatives to ‘first past the post’ has captured the public imagination, although mixed member proportional has the most backing. The numbers suggest both that the public has yet to be convinced of the clear benefits of anyone alternative voting systems, and that as things currently stand, a referendum on electoral reform may not yield useful results for decision-makers.
The Senate. The Senate is the institution most widely viewed as being in need of major reform, with over eight in ten Canadians being convinced of the need for change, whether major or minor. About a third of Canadians are in favour of outright abolition, and another 36% are convinced of the need for serious structural reform. Indeed, two thirds of Canadians in favour of major overhaul or outright abolition would even support reopening the constitution in order to do so. This is significant, given that commentators often mention the reluctance of Canadians to consider revisiting the constitution for fear of reopening old wounds.
Indigenous Governance. Equally significant is the broad support expressed for involving indigenous peoples more deeply in the governance of the Canadian federation, given the country’s complicated legacy on indigenous questions. Only 16% of Canadians oppose granting indigenous peoples more representation in the federal government, and there is noteworthy support for ideas such as establishing a permanent cabinet committee on indigenous affairs, as well as designating a minimum number of indigenous seats in the House of Commons, Senate, and Supreme Court, and even for introducing quotas within the federal public service. Canadians are, on the whole, prepared to accept a strengthened role for indigenous peoples in the country’s political life, and while we don’t have access to comparative data to track against on these specific questions, the survey results suggest a significant shift in attitudes on the part of Canadians. It is not unreasonable to suggest that results like these would have been highly unlikely even a decade or two ago.
Accountability. While Canadians agree that rules and procedures are important in the activities of government, strong majorities also maintain that accountability should be based on what is accomplished, rather than on what procedures have been followed, and on clear principles rather than detailed rules. Even those who believe there are not enough rules and procedures in the federal government are reluctant to support adding new ones when the possibility of trade-offs (such as additional costs or slower decision-making) is presented to them.
Digital Governance. As governments begin to focus on determining how best to incorporate digital technologies into policy development and service delivery, there is a noteworthy openness in the public to an expanded role for digital technologies in government, but little clarity as to what this would mean in practice. There is interest in areas such as providing government information online, delivering public services, directly accessing elected officials, and using new forms of communication through digital media. Four in ten say they would be interested in being able to communicate directly with government via text messaging on service related issues. But generally the results suggest that Canadians are by and large not familiar with existing governance-related applications of digital technology, and have yet to fully appreciate their current and potential benefits.
The Sharing Economy. Canadians are also quickly becoming familiar with the fast-growing ‘sharing economy,’ with four in ten having already used, or knowing someone who has used, the services provided by organizations like Uber and Airbnb. On the whole, Canadians are optimistic about the potential of these services but also believe that they should be subject to some form of regulatory structure, even if there is no public consensus on what that structure should look like. This suggests that governments will have some work to do in figuring out how best to support these innovative new businesses while ensuring that the right regulatory frameworks prevail.
The survey was administered online, February 1-10, 2016, to a representative sample of 2,000 Canadians aged 18 or over, and was weighted by region, age and gender.
Click here to read the full report on the Environics Institute’s site