In mid-June, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended the G7 meeting in Cornwall, U.K., where he met with his peers from France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K., the U.S. and the EU to discuss post-pandemic recovery.
When it comes to our international political relationships, Canada keeps some exceptional company. As well, Canada scores very high in numerous international studies on quality of life, livability, the strength of our public sector and of our social support programs, our health system, etc.
Interestingly, many of the studies in which Canada ranks highest are determined by what citizens in other countries think of Canada. In other words, much of the world outside the country thinks living inside Canada is great.
But how are Canadians feeling about our current environment and their future prospects? Do we recognize and appreciate how well things are going in the country? Do our views mirror the views of those who are looking at Canada from afar?
The answer is — not so much. In fact, when we examine the views of Canadians across our monthly 28-country assessment and compare us to the views of global citizens about their own countries, we are downright average.
On Ipsos’ short-term measure of consumer and citizen sentiment, Canadians sit at minus seven per cent versus the 28-country average of plus one per cent. Our nearest geographic neighbour, the U.S., sits at plus 14 per cent and has been rising of late while our views remain stagnant.
On a longer-term measure of socio-political stability, Canada sits at zero per cent vs. the 28-country average of minus eight per cent. But in the ordinal ranking, this sees us in 10th place out of 28 countries on the hugely important issue of social cohesion which is a necessary ingredient for democracies and economies to thrive.
When it comes to the personal financial health of Canadians, the views of Canadians are again just slightly better than the views of the 28-country average, with 24 per cent of Canadians thriving (vs. 17 per cent globally) and 21 per cent sinking (vs. 22 per cent globally). But if we again compare ourselves to the U.S., we fall well short, with 33 per cent of Americans thriving and 17 per cent sinking.
Perhaps, the views of Canadians are correct, and Canada isn’t exceptional. We have a strong international reputation and maybe we should be happy that we are at least average when it comes to our own views of our personal financial situation and our short and long-term assessment of our lives and the direction of our country. There is something to be said for not being at the bottom of any of the indicators.
One might think that despite the country’s average standing, Canadians must know the advantages we have and feel that there is more that can be done to improve their own lot in life and help others. That is, we would see a socially active population pushing and acting to take advantage of Canada’s strengths to make the world a better place.
But once more, we’re not seeing much evidence of this being the case through the Ipsos social activism score. Again, Canadians are just average, with 16 per cent of Canadians saying they are committed to taking action to make things like society and the environment better (vs. 17 per cent globally). Worse, 34 per cent of us report that we are largely “tuned out” (vs. 33 per cent globally).
When Canadians look at other countries, we do so through the lens of our overall wealth and our historical perspective. This drives pride in the country and a narrative that most believe, namely that Canadians live in an exceptional and privileged country.
But when Canadians are asked about their own lives and prospects, our views shift and by and large, we don’t feel very special about ourselves. As noted above, the short-term outlook of Canadians is much less positive than the citizens in the G7 and much of Europe. In fact, the countries whose citizens’ concerns are closest to the short-term sentiments of Canadians are Brazil and Poland.
When one looks at the facts from a health and macro-economic perspective, Canada appears to be making significant progress toward recovering from the pandemic. However, there are other concerns that are dampening the enthusiasm of Canadians. Pre-pandemic, pessimism abounded about the direction of the country, the future of health care, the lack of high-quality jobs, overall affordability and people’s long-term financial prospects. The pandemic did not make any of these concerns disappear. Instead, it forced Canadians to park these concerns while they focused on the more short-term issues required to get through the pandemic.
The pandemic also didn’t afford the country’s public or private sector institutions time to address any of the systemic issues that were worrying Canadians in the early winter of 2020. Instead, the pandemic exacerbated these issues, as evidenced by rising house prices and overall affordability concerns, and increased health care wait times. It’s also amplified a host of other social issue concerns from racism to Indigenous reconciliation.
There have been some economic gains, but these have mostly benefitted those who were already doing well before the pandemic hit, while those who were the most financially vulnerable continue to be the most negatively impacted since the pandemic began.
With the arrival of summer and vaccination rates increasing, almost everyone is hoping for the pandemic to move fully into our rearview mirror and for life in Canada to return to normal.
Perhaps today’s low overall sentiment and our averageness versus the rest of the world is one of the first indications that this is happening, but it could also be an early indicator of Canadians waking up to the challenges ahead of us.
Mike Colledge is president, Canada Ipsos Public Affairs.