MA CLEAN’S/CTV POLL

HOPE IN HARD TIMES

AS THEIR STANDARD OF LIVING ERODES, CANADIANS DEMAND THAT POLITICIANS PAY ATTENTION TO THEIR PROBLEMS

ROSS LAVER January 4 1993
MA CLEAN’S/CTV POLL

HOPE IN HARD TIMES

AS THEIR STANDARD OF LIVING ERODES, CANADIANS DEMAND THAT POLITICIANS PAY ATTENTION TO THEIR PROBLEMS

ROSS LAVER January 4 1993

HOPE IN HARD TIMES

MA CLEAN’S/CTV POLL

AS THEIR STANDARD OF LIVING ERODES, CANADIANS DEMAND THAT POLITICIANS PAY ATTENTION TO THEIR PROBLEMS

ROSS LAVER

Tn Canada, 1992 will be remembered as the year when voters rose up against their elected leaders and defeated a constitutional proposal supported by virtually every mainstream political party and establishment institution in the country. It was also a year in which Americans, seeking a way out of the worst economic slump since the Great Depression, turned their backs on the Reagan-Bush conservative agenda and elected a fortysomething liberal who played saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show and called for a return to activist government. In Europe, the antiestablishment storm threatened the Maastricht treaty, a document that politicians hoped would bring harmony to the European Community but which instead became a lightning rod for discontent. Throughout the developed world, the political tides are turning—driven by widespread economic anxieties and a deeply rooted conviction that politicians have lost touch with the interests of the people they represent.

Both those currents are starkly evident in the results of the ninth annual

validity, results have been broken down by region rather than by province.

The text of the poll, and a dése , begins on page

42. This year’s edition includes feature articles on politics, the economy and sexual behavior. As well, there are reports on crime, immigration, national unity, fantasies and the top stories of 1992. For statistical

The text of the poll, and a desc

DFG

MACLEAN’S/CTV POLL

Maclean’s poll by Decima Research, conducted for the first time this year in partnership with CTV. Based on telephone interviews with 1,500 Canadian residents 18 years or older, the survey found that 64 per cent of the sample said that unemployment and the weak economy are the most important problems facing the country, a sharp rise from last year’s 42 per cent. At the same time, 35 per cent of respondents are “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with their economic situation, down marginally from last year’s finding but still more than double the rate of discontentment four years ago. Significantly, the issue that loomed over the Canadian political landscape like no other in the past 12 months, national unity, was cited as the top problem by a mere five per cent—a dramatic illustration of the chasm between the concerns of those who govern and those who are governed.

In the 1990s, one of the most damning things that can be said about a politician in Canada or abroad is that he or she “just doesn’t get it.” When George Bush attended a grocers’ convention last February and stared in wonderment at a supermarket bar-code scanner—a machine familiar to millions of shoppers but not, apparently, to the leader of the only remaining superpower—it reinforced his image as a man isolated from the real world. Similarly, the long months of constitutional negotiations exasperated many Canadians, and led them to conclude that their own concerns—for a steady paycheque and a secure future— no longer counted for much in the cloistered world of career politicians and political consultants.

Indeed, the Maclean s/CTV poll indicates that there is a close link between Canadians’ anxieties about the economy and their sense of alienation from the political process. In general, respondents who said that the economy is getting worse were significantly more likely than others to say that their faith in politicians has de-

creased in the past few years—and that most politicians “only seem interested in helping themselves.”

Decima president Allan Gregg, who has supervised year-end polls for Maclean ’s since 1984, said that the results point to a profound sense of frustration on the part of Canadian voters. “Think about it—what have been the predominant issues occupying the political agenda for the past decade?” Gregg asked. “Free trade, the GST, deficit reduction and the Constitution. Not one of those is a people’s issue—zero.” He added: “You get a sense that the political system is running for the political elite. And the reaction is, ‘You don’t understand what we’re going through. You don’t listen to us, and you don’t seem prepared to do things on our behalf.’ ”

As the sense of economic crisis deepens, many Canadians appear to be questioning the conservative principles that have guided political leaders in most Western democracies since the early 1980s. Launched by Margaret Thatcher in Britain and Ronald Reagan in the United States, the conservative revolution was founded on a belief in small government, and a conviction that the primary responsibility of deficit-burdened administrations is to restrain public spending. But when asked to choose between two radically different mandates, 57 per cent of those polled said that the most urgent job for government right now is to invest in programs that give people skills for the future—even if it means increasing the deficit. Only 41 per cent said that Ottawa should do everything possible to reduce the deficit, even if it means cutting services.

Which of these is the most important role of government?

To create an environment where business can prosper and create jobs:

37%

To invest in areas like education that provide Canadians with skills they need to help themselves: _ . Q/

31/0

To control public spending and reduce the deficit: ^ Ä ,

25%

If your province was given the opportunity to join the United States, would you be inclined to take it or not?

NOW 1989

20% 1 16%

To provide services that people cannot provide for themselves: ^ ,,

YES BY REGION:

What is most important right now?

To do everything possible to reduce the deficit, even if it means cutting services:

41%

To invest in programs that give people skills for the future, even if it means the deficit increases:

57%

Percentage supporting increased spending on education and training, even if the deficit increases:

Are you more or less proud of Canada now than five years ago?

UNCHANGED

52

Will the generation being born now be better off or worse off than their parents?

But to conclude that the political pendulum is swinging back towards traditional liberalism is clearly too simplistic. When asked to define in more general terms the proper role of government, the responses were mixed: 37 per cent said that it was to create an environment “where business can prosper and create jobs,” 31 per cent said that it was to invest in areas like education and 25 per cent said that it was to control public spending. A mere seven per cent responded that the primary role of government was to provide services that people “cannot provide for themselves”—the traditional social safety net.

According to Gregg, the poll indicates that Canadians reject not only the radical conservative philosophy but also the view that governments, acting on their own, can solve longstanding social problems. “The political pendulum may be swinging back, but it isn’t swinging back on exactly the same path,” he said. “The notion that we have a problem so we need a new Crown corporation or more government doesn’t cut it any more. Clinton taps into this when he says he’s going to give people a hand up, not a handout. And people are looking to governments for that kind of initiative because they say, ‘If not government, who?’ ”

That condition poses an enormous dilemma for politicians in the 1990s. On the one hand, the Maclean ’S/CTV poll shows that many Canadians are troubled by the continuing erosion of the country’s prosperity in the global economy—and, as a result, are looking to governments for practical and effective measures that would protect and improve their standard of living. But at the same time, they have little confidence that their political representatives are up to the challenge. Perhaps only when Canadians see evidence that their political leaders understand and empathize with their economic fears will they suspend their cynicism and distrust towards the political process.