2014 Survey of Public Opinion on Public Governance in Canada
Author: Environics Institute
Governments have played a central role in the building of modern-day Canada, and in past generations the Canadian public has been supportive of the role and place of government as important institutions to collective well-being and economic security. Such confidence has been eroding over the past several decades, in part through broader socio-cultural trends (e.g., a general decline in deference to authority), and political trends (the emergence of a movement defining government as the problem rather than the solution). Governments at all levels are now facing increasing scrutiny and political pressures while at the same time contending with increasing expectations for accountability and performance.
Most of the public discussion about the role of government has focused on policies and spending decisions, with little if any attention given to the process of governance and how our governments should operate. Elected officials are front and centre as the leaders taking responsibility for government policy and making the important decisions, but behind the scenes it is the public service that is responsible for making government run and implementing policies. Politicians come and go as different political parties take the reigns of power, but the public service plays an essential non-political role of ensuring that the institutions of government function effectively, efficiently and with continuity.
This raises important questions about what exactly Canadians know and think about how their country, province and municipality are governed, and about the people who carry out these responsibilities. Anecdotal evidence is helpful, but the only way to provide definitive answers is through properly designed survey research. Such research can accurately reveal current public awareness, knowledge, perceptions, expectations and priorities of the Canadian public generally, as well as by important segments of the population (e.g., across regions, generations, and socio-economic status). This type of empirical evidence is essential to understanding the extent to which there is an underlying stability or a pending crisis in public confidence in our government institutions, and what might be required to address it.