Canadians claim the future

Robert Miller January 7 1985

Canadians claim the future

Robert Miller January 7 1985

Canadians claim the future


Robert Miller

For most Canadians at the beginning of 1985, the traditional Happy New Year greeting was more than a seasonal greeting, more than a midnight wish. It was, instead, a collective fitness report, a three-word summary of the state of the nation’s psyche. According to the first annual Maclean’s/Decima Poll of public opinion, an overwhelming 76 per cent of Canadians began the year satisfied with their lives. In a country where climate and terrain require optimism almost as an article of citizenship, a still-impressive 80 per cent of the population faces an unknowable future either “optimistic” or “very optimistic” about personal economic prospects. The poll confirms that Canadians remain deeply concerned about bread-and-butter issues, most notably chronic unemployment. But overall, the survey reveals Canada to be a nation of hopeful individuals increasingly caught up in the celebration—as well as the challenge—of modern life.

The Maclean ’s/Decima Poll, an exhaustive and wide-ranging opinion survey, paints a fascinating portrait of a diverse but essentially compassionate society which is aware of—but not un-

‘Many people say that unem-

ploy ment is the problem which

most concerns them. Thinking about four other economic con_ cerns—interest rates, the federal deficit, the value of the dollar and inflation— which of these are you most concerned about?’

INFLATION................... ...(38%)

INTEREST RATES......................... (18%)

VALUE OF THE DOLLAR............................(23%)

FEDERAL DEFICIT.....................................(21%)


Numbers in all graphs may not add to 100 due to rounding

duly depressed by—its own imperfections. There is disagreement—between age groups and the sexes, among occupational classifications and Canada’s geographic regions—on a wide variety of issues, including the social implications of the trend toward sexual permissiveness, career prospects for the next generation, the chances of having a happy life without children and whether society is changing too quickly for comfort. But beyond the diversity of opinion, the poll identifies a remarkable consensus that life is good—and getting better—in a country that retains the ability to smile at itself (page 43). One poll respondent-answering the question “Thinking about the last year, what single event or happening made you personally most happy?”—said, “After 37 years of work, we are able to afford the things we wanted 25 years ago.”

Respected: Altogether, Decima Research Ltd. of Toronto put 43 questions to 1,500 Canadian residents aged 16 and older in telephone interviews conducted between Nov. 1 and Nov. 11. Decima is one of Canada’s most respected polling firms, whose clients include the Canadian Petroleum Association and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce as well as the federal Progressive Conservative party. Under the direction of president

Allan R. Gregg, research consultant Bruce Anderson and research analyst Martha Cronyn, Decima selected a scientifically random sample of 1,500 Canadians, both in urban and rural communities and in all areas of the country, to represent an accurate statistical reflection of the nation—by age, sex, marital status, education, occupation, income level and place of residence. The 1,500 sample is large, by polling standards, but in theory the larger the sample the greater the probability of accuracy. Said Gregg: “The responses drawn from our sample can be taken to represent the national viewpoint within 2.6 per cent of total accuracy, 19 times out of 20.”

The breakdown of the sample according to region was as follows: British Columbia, 170; Alberta, 138; Saskatchewan, 60; Manitoba, 63; Metro Toronto, 132; balance of Ontario, 301; Quebec, 398; New Brunswick, 74; Nova Scotia, 90; Prince Edward Island, 14; and Newfoundland, 60. Some regions, such as New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, were purposely overrepresented in the sample size in order to give them a large enough response group to make regional comparisons more accurate. When tabulating national figures, the regional numbers were “weighted” to take into account their proper size in relation to the country as a whole. When looking strictly at comparisons between regions, the figures were “unweighted,” making them more representative of the region.

Amazed: Maclean ’s commissioned the poll to discover what Canadians think about the great social issues of the day, about their changing world, their future, their country, themselves. Perhaps not since 1967, Canada’s centennial year, when the country impressed the entire world and amazed itself by successfully staging Expo 67 and a host of other celebratory events, have the Canadian people been as sure of themselves and their future as the poll suggests they are today.

Still, the level of Canadians’ satisfaction with their personal economic situation varies significantly, not only by occupational and age groupings but also from region to region. When asked “How satisfied are you with your own personal economic situation right now?” residents of Saskatchewan and Newfoundland emerged as the most sat-

isfied (83 per cent). At the same time, Albertans (70 per cent) and Nova Scotians (70 per cent), perhaps frustrated by a languishing energy sector, in both regions, were the least. Decima also asked those Canadians polled “Thinking about the future, in general, would you say you are (a) very optimistic, (b) optimistic, (c) pessimistic, or (d) very pessimistic about your personal economic prospects?” Torontonians, whose city is booming, led the nation with an

88-per-cent optimism rating while Quebec residents, less comfortable with the rapid pace of technological and institutional change, lagged at 73 per cent.

Generosity: The poll also reveals a generosity of spirit and a willingness to consider the plight of society’s less fortunate. Asked without prompting to cite the most important issue confronting the country, an impresssive 53 per cent said unemployment—although most of the respondents held jobs. Among other major concerns: the economy generally (six per cent), inflation and the cost of living (five per cent), and the threat of

nuclear war (six per cent). And the poll shows that a majority of Canadians appears willing to consider the radical concept of job sharing (page 32) to help solve the unemployment problem. In all, 53 per cent of respondents said they favor the idea of giving up some of their “working hours and income so that an unemployed person can find work.”

To help Maclean’s analyse the poll results, Decima’s Digital PDP 11/44 computer sorted and cross-tabulated re-

spondents’ answers by marital status, sex, age group, education, occupation, union membership and employment. The exercise produced thousands of pages of printed data.The computer also sorted the responses by province (separating Metropolitan Toronto from the rest of Ontario) and by region: British Columbia, the Prairies, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. For its part, before Decima designed the questionnaire, Maclean’s requested data under seven general subject headings: the economy/ government, the family, sexual attitudes, women, employment, youth and

aging—all of which are reported in the articles contained in this package. Among the poll’s highlights: Economy/Government: Canadians retain their faith in government as the guardian of the economy (page 16). A full 50 per cent of respondents said that they looked most to government to protect their economic interests, compared with only 30 per cent who said that they looked to business and a mere 10 per cent to labor unions. At the same time,

and in apparent contradiction, Canadians paid lip-service, at least, to a belief in self-reliance. Eighty-four per cent of those polled said they believed that Canadians “should rely more on individual initiatives and ability and not so much on government.” Because 1984 was an intensely political year in Canada, in which a long-entrenched Liberal administration was supplanted by a massive Progressive Conservative majority under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, some analysts have concluded that Canadians are moving sharply to the right in the political spectrum. The Mac-

lean's/Decima Poll indicates that that is not the case. An overwhelming 86 per cent agreed that the federal deficit—a prime target of the Mulroney government, as well as a perennial villain among doctrinaire right wingers—was “an unfair burden that we are passing on to our children [and] has to be cut.” But a full 67 per cent said that the government should not reduce the deficit by eliminating economic or social programs, a cherished right-wing solution.

The Home: According to the poll, Canadians retain their essential faith in the institution of marriage and in the durability of the family unit (page 20). A high divorce rate—one in three Canadian marriages is dissolved—and a continuing trend, particularly among younger couples, toward living together in common-law arrangements have led to widespread predictions that the traditional notion of marriage is doomed. But only 39 per cent agreed with a suggestion that within “10 or 15 years the whole idea of marriage as we know it may be forgotten.” Quebecers were most pessimistic, with 47 per cent agreeing with the statement, and British Columbians were least pessimistic, 27 per cent of whom disagreed.

Fully 65 per cent of Canadians agreed that “in the years ahead the family will become more important than ever” —one of the few poll categories in which

‘Whom do you look to most to look after your best economic interests—government, business, or unions ?’


the responses showed no significant regional differences. But there is strong evidence that many Canadians have changed their attitude toward at least one of the traditional purposes of marriage. A surprising 40 per cent said they believed it was possible to have “a happy and rewarding life without children” (57 per cent disagreed).

Sexuality: Love apparently thrives in a cold climate, even though Canadians are divided—by age group and occupation—on whether increased sexual permissiveness, which three Canadians in four believe to be a fact, has been a positive social development. Generally, older and less affluent Canadians con-

demned the trend, whereas the younger and better paid were more likely to take the opposite view. When asked to choose among “better health, more income or a better love life” as a New Year’s wish, Canadians narrowly preferred better health (44 per cent) over more income (42 per cent). Only 10 per cent opted for a better love life.

A full 74 per cent claim to lead active sex lives, with Atlantic Canadians slightly above the national average and Quebecers slightly below it. Collectively, Canadians awarded themselves a 6.59 rating when asked to assess their personal appearance on a scale of 1 to 10. Curiously, in light of claimed sexual activity levels, Quebecers rated their appearance the highest at 6.88, residents of Atlantic Canada the lowest at 6.35.

Women: One of the poll’s most significant and disturbing findings is the low esteem that nonworking women hold themselves in compared to working women. Nonworking women are more pessimistic about the future of marriage and about the chances of those who are now young of attaining their economic goals. They also rated themselves lower than working women in sexual activity and appearance. Fully 42 per cent of nonworking women said they would prefer to have a job.

The low self-esteem of the nation’s homemakers and unemployed women was dramatically reflected by respondents who were asked to rate their appearance on a scale of 1 to 10. A majority of nonworking women (57 per cent) gave themselves a rating of 6 or less, while working women gave themselves a 7 or higher. When asked how they thought their sexual activity compared with that of the average Canadian, 29 per cent of working women said they believed themselves to be more sexually active than average, while only 23 per cent of nonworking women put themselves in that category.

Employment: The poll suggests Canada is a nation of conscientious workers. Beyond their wide concern about unemployment, Canadians claim to pay a great deal of attention to, and find substantial satisfaction in, the workplace. An astonishing 89 per cent of working Canadians said that they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their jobs—and British Columbians (94 per cent) were happiest of all. Generally, the higher-income groups were the most satisfied. But income evidently is only one motivator. Among full-time workers, although 66 per cent said they had jobs because they needed the money, a full 30 per cent claimed they were motivated by a need to feel fulfilled.

Also significant is the poll’s finding that Canadians have a poor opinion of any labor unions that resist technological innovation to protect members’ jobs. Respondents were read the statement: “Some people have said that Canada’s labor unions have been doing a good job of protecting their members’ jobs by fighting against employers who want to use new technologies which might eliminate jobs. Others have said that by resisting technologies, the unions are going to hurt our economy because we will not be able to compete internationally and that this will eventually eliminate even more jobs.” Then the respondents were asked, “Which one of these two views best reflects your own?” Thirtytwo per cent approved of the union tactics described, but a total of 64 per cent agreed that resisting the advance of technology is futile.

As for the work ethic, a majority of Canadians (63 per cent) believes that it is being eroded and that the next generation will not be willing to work as hard as previous generations. While that attitude was most prevalent among the elderly (79 per cent of those aged 65 and up), most of whom are looking back on a lifetime of hard work, many younger Canadians (54 per cent of those aged 18 to 24) also agreed.

Youth: Most of Canada’s 18to 24year-olds apparently are far from restless. Indeed, the poll shows that young people collectively embrace a mixture of modern economic realism with a social idealism that might have comforted a

‘How satisfied are you with your own personal economic situation right now?

Would you say you are ... ’

VERY SATISFIED...................................(11%)

SATISFIED..................................... (65%)


VERY DISSATISFIED............................... ( 6%)

NO OPINION (VOLUNTEERED)...................( * )

* insignificant response

1950s small-1 liberal. A total of 66 per cent of respondents aged 18 to 24 (compared with 67 per cent of the overall population) agreed that “today’s young people will not end up having the same standard of living they had hoped for”_a dramatic confirmation of the theory that Canadians are living in an age of diminishing expectations. Still, the poll shows that young people’s optimism about the future marginally exceeds that of the nation as a whole.

Aging: The poll reveals that among the roughly 2.6 million Canadians aged 65 years and over, health is far more important than money. Asked to choose among better health, more income or a better love life as a New Year’s wish, 76 per cent picked health, whereas only 14 per cent wanted more money and eight per cent a better love life. According to most Canadians, the elderly will get their wish—at least for the next generation. The poll found that 58 per cent of the total population expected the next generation of senior citizens to enjoy improved health. But the economic prospects for the elderly were judged to be less favorable. A total of 46 per cent of Canadians expected future senior citizens to be worse off financially, whereas only 42 per cent expected improvement.

Still, Canada’s elderly—a quarter of whom live in poverty, according to the National Council of Welfare—claim to be economically content. A full 84 per cent of respondents aged 65 and over said they were satisfied with their personal economic circumstances, and a further 75 per cent said they were optimistic about their economic future.

The techniques of modern opinion sampling have been sharply refined, and The Maclean’s/Decima Poll leaves little room to doubt the accuracy of the findI ings outlined in the pages ahead. ^