Maclean's/Poll

CANADIANS SPEAK OUT ON ISSUES AND HOPES

MARK NICHOLS January 4 1988
Maclean's/Poll

CANADIANS SPEAK OUT ON ISSUES AND HOPES

MARK NICHOLS January 4 1988

CANADIANS SPEAK OUT ON ISSUES AND HOPES

Maclean's/Poll

At 26, Ronald Van Groenigen, who has worked at the Stelco Inc. plant in Nanticoke, Ont., for the past seven years, says

that he is confident about the future. In August Van Groenigen and his wife, Joanne, who works as a forklift operator at an apple packing plant, bought a three-bedroom house 55 km southwest of Hamilton. The couple has two dogs and a cat but no children so far. To strengthen the family finances, Van Groenigen runs a small business in his spare time, making videotapes of weddings and other local events. He is not very optimistic about the general economic outlook for 1988. “I don’t think we’ll see anything good next year as far as the overall economy goes,” says Van Groenigen, who was one of the respondents in the annual Maclean's/ Decima Poll. “We’ll still be plugging away trying to pull it up.” But he is not worried about his own prospects. “I know I’m not going to get laid off next year, and my wife has steady employment,” says Van Groenigen. “I’m never afraid of not making money. There’s always work, just as long as you keep looking.”

That mix of sentiments reflected those expressed by many Canadians as they looked ahead to the coming year. The results of the latest Maclean ’s/Decima Poll, which are reported in detail in the following pages, showed that while dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s leadership deepened significantly during 1987, an overwhelming majority of Canadians expressed contentment with their own economic circumstances. The majority also registered optimism about their personal economic futures, even though many said that they thought the stock market crash of Oct. 19 might lead to difficulties for the economy generally.

At the same time, the survey findings indicated that suspicion among

Canadians over a free trade treaty with the United States has been growing on both economic and cultural grounds. When respondents were asked to name the key issues facing Canada, more respondents named free trade than any other issue, including unemployment, which ranked as the No. 1 issue in the last two annual Maclean's/Decima surveys. The survey also showed that the percentage of respondents who said that

they thought free trade would be a good thing for Canada was only slightly larger than the growing number who said that it would be a bad thing for the country. Well over one-third of those surveyed said that they feared that such an arrangement would result in fewer jobs for Canadians. “I think free trade is definitely wrong,” said Kenneth

MacCormack, 30, a quality-control supervisor at a Charlottetown soft-drink bottling plant. “We’ll end up losing in the long run as far as market shares and competition from the Americans.”

The findings also indicated that a substantial majority—79 per cent of those polled—were conscious of being different from Americans and proud of many of the beliefs and institutions that contribute to their national identity. As well, 49 per cent were concerned that free trade would make it harder for Canadians to maintain the things that they believe make Canada unique.

Responses to The Maclean ’s/Decima Poll indicated little improvement in the standing of Brian Mulroney’s Conservative government and showed a markedly increased displeasure with Mulroney himself. Dissatisfaction with Mulroney’s performance was pronounced, with nearly half of those polled indicating that they were unhappy with the job he was doing. Mulroney’s most unfavorable rating was in the area of candor, with fully 56 per cent of those surveyed indicating that they were dissatisfied with his ability to be straightforward with the Canadian public. In some cases, follow-up Maclean's interviews with poll respondents elicited vehement denunciations of the Prime Minister. Said John Kirk, 57, an unemployed resident of Victoria who has worked in the past as a laborer and a prison guard: “He’s a lawyer—he’s not straight at all.”

At the same time, the poll results suggested that Canadians have underlying concerns about the nation’s economic outlook, though most respondents said that they did not think they would be personally affected by the consequences of the stock market downturn. Government deficits and inflation—which reached 4.6 per cent in the third quarter of 1987—were both singled out as pressing issues.

Still, Canadians seemed to be in a

confident and optimistic mood. In all, 78 per cent of the respondents declared that they were satisfied with their own economic situations (an increase from 74 per cent in the last Maclean’s/Decima Poll), and 85 per cent said that they are optimistic about their own futures.

The survey findings showed that the trend toward more conservative lifestyles in Canadian society is continuing. Bearing out the results of the last survey, 75 per cent of those polled said that family concerns were becoming a more important part of their lives. At the same time, there were signs that growing concern about AIDS may be making Canadians more cautious in their sexual activity. When they were asked to characterize that aspect of their lives, only 59 per cent of those polled described themselves as sexually active, a sharp decline from 69 per cent in the last survey.

All of those indicators of the mood and behavior of Canadians emerged after Maclean’s commissioned Decima Research Ltd. of Toronto to carry out the magazine’s fourth annual year-end

survey. Decima researchers conducted telephone interviews in which they asked 1,500 Canadian residents 68 questions between Oct. 31 and Nov. 7. The resulting data were weighted to make regional comparisons possible. Statisticians consider a poll of that kind to be accurate for the whole population within plus or minus 2.6 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

During the polling, respondents—all of whom were 18 or over and representative of a wide range of income groups and political persuasions—were asked if they would elaborate on their opinions in subsequent interviews with Maclean’s reporters. In all, 218 of the poll respondents agreed to discuss the key concerns addressed by the survey in greater detail.

POLITICS

In a year that began in scandal— with the resignation of junior transport minister André Bissonnette last January in the Oerlikon affair—and featured debate over the Meech Lake constitutional accord, the government’s tax reform proposals and free trade, dissatisfaction with Brian Mulroney and his government grew for the third year in

a row. When respondents were asked to grade the Mulroney government' as a whole on a scale of A to D with an F for failure, 41 per cent awarded the Conservatives a D or an F, a marginal increase from 38 per cent who gave the lowest grades in 1986. The percentage who thought that the government had earned an A or B remained about the same at 18 per cent.

But when they were asked about Mulroney, 49 per cent of those surveyed reported that they were dissatisfied with the job he was doing, a significant increase over the 42 per cent who felt that way in 1986 and the 33 per cent the year before. As well as faulting Mulroney on candor, 52 per cent of the respondents blamed him for not doing more to help the economy and create jobs—despite the fact that the unemployment rate declined steadily to 8.2 per cent in November after averaging 9.6 per cent during 1986. On the issue of national unity, the percentage of those who said that they were dissatisfied with Mulroney’s ability to help Canadians to work together increased dramatically—to 41 per cent from the 25 per cent who felt

that way in the last Maclean ’s/Decima survey.

THE ECONOMY

When respondents were questioned about the possible impact of the October stock market crash, which created alarm before the polling was carried out, 52 per cent said that they felt it might signal an economic downturn in Canada. But 85 per cent said that the crash would have only a minor effect, or no effect at all, on their personal finances. “I think we’ll have some hard times, but not any worse than the last recession,” said Jean Sadler, 69, a retired nurse who lives in Arnprior,

Ont. “It won’t affect my husband and I, but maybe my daughter, because she has only part-time work.”

Despite that apparent feeling of general optimism, 52 per cent of the respondents also indicated that they would be less willing in 1988 to go into debt for a major purchase—a frame of mind that could slow economic growth in 1988.

FREE TRADE

After several years of relative indifference to the issue, a plurality of respondents (26 per cent) rated the prospect of free trade with the United States as the No. 1 issue facing the nation. At the same time, opposition to the accord—and uneasiness about the possible impact on Canadian culture and the economyappeared to be growing. The percentage of respondents who said that free trade would be a good thing declined to 49 per cent from 67 per cent in 1986,

while 44 per cent thought that it would be a bad thing, compared with only 31 per cent the year before. Asked whether the removal of trade barriers would

result in more jobs for Canadians, 26 per cent of the respondents said that it would, while 40 per cent said that fewer jobs would result.

As well, some Canadians clearly suspect that the United States may have

got the better of Canada in the free trade negotiations. Asked which side did a better job in the trade talks, 59 per cent indicated that the Americans did, while only 27 per cent thought that the Canadian negotiators performed better. At the same time, survey responses pointed to the potential for divisive regional frictions over free trade, with westerners and residents of Quebec and the Atlantic provinces tending to favor it, while 53 per cent of the Ontario residents polled opposed free trade.

CANADIAN IDENTITY Questions about the Canadian identity yielded fascinating insights into the way Canadians see themselves. Responses showed that Canadians are proud of their national identity and fear—often without being able to say exactly why—that a trade pact might undermine that. When respondents were asked to rate Canadian cultural institutions, the reviews were I mixed: Canadian TV and movies § were seen as inferior to their

0 American counterparts, while Canadian writers and news coverage were considered superior. Respondents overwhelmingly ly saw Canadians as being

E more concerned about the envi-

1 ronment (69 per cent) and the poor (56 per cent), and more honest and fair (42 per cent)

than Americans.

Still, in key areas that could clearly influence the impact of a free trade pact, Canadians appeared to see themselves as less than equal to the American challenge. While 62 per cent of the

respondents saw Canadians as equal to or better than Americans in business know-how, 51 per cent said Canada was inferior in science and technology, and 53 per cent said that they felt Americans had a competitive edge over Canadians.

EAST-WEST

RELATIONS

The impact of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost (openness) campaign and the Soviet-U.S. agreement to ban intermediaterange nuclear missiles appeared to have helped reduce Canadians’ fear of nuclear war. Asked about the risk of war, 42 per cent of those surveyed said that they thought it had diminished, while only 17 per cent felt that it had grown. When asked— about one month before the Washington superpower summit—which of the superpower leaders was most committed to reducing international tensions, respondents said, by a modest margin, that President Ronald Reagan (47 per cent) was more committed than Gorbachev (40 per cent). But among those who said that the risk of war had decreased, 48 per cent attributed that to Gorbachev’s efforts, compared to 42 per cent who credited Reagan.

SEXUALITY

Confronting the spectre of AIDS,

more than half of the respondents (53 per cent) said that they were worried about contracting the disease, while one in four admitted that they were very concerned. That compares to only

one in five who were very concerned two years ago. There were signs that Canadian sexual patterns may be beginning to adjust to the grim reality of the disease. While 74 per cent of those surveyed said that the spread of AIDS

had not changed their sex lives, virtually the same proportion (72 per cent) said that they were monogamous and thus would not have to significantly alter their sexual habits to minimize the risk. But among respondents between 18 and 24 years old, 37 per cent said that such diseases as AIDS were having at least some effect on their sex lives.

In a shift away from serious issues, respondents were asked to name another person whose life they would like to live. Perhaps reflecting a general level of self-satisfaction expressed by most Canadians who were polled, 52 per cent said that they would prefer to be themselves, a friend or a family member. But those who gave freer rein to their imaginations produced a spectrum of prominent personalities and historical figures, ranging from Queen Elizabeth and Dolly Parton to Clint Eastwood and _ Julius Caesar. Three per g cent wanted to change

0 places with a millionaire,

1 while seven per cent named actors or entertainers, and the same

percentage named politicians. Louis McSheffrey, a 40-year-old supervisor at a forest products company in Invermere, B.C., chose a woman—British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher—as a person he would like to change places with. “She is forthright,” said McSheffrey. “When she says something, she means it. Brian Mulroney could use that—the talent of saying something and sticking to it.”

Some Canadians were clearly in a critical and apprehensive mood as they embarked on 1988, but a sense of wellbeing and hopefulness remained predominant. Laurence Pion, 46, who runs a small bookbinding business in Moose Jaw, Sask., conceded that major sectors of the economy might encounter difficulties, but he added that if that happened, “I’ll simply retrench and look at the priorities—like a roof overhead and Kraft Dinner on the table. I’ve passed the stage where I need two Ski-Doos in the front yard.” If the fears of some Canadians are borne out, that kind of flexibility may be what is needed for the coming year.

— MARK NICHOLS in Toronto