The COVID Effect: Quebecers Share the Same Level of Trust Towards Doctors and Scientists as Other Canadians, while Politicians and Employers Lose Ground

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As the pandemic’s first birthday approaches, Quebecers share the same trust towards scientists and doctors as Canadians, while politicians and employers are sliding down the trust scale. Also, 81% of Quebecers and 85% of Canadians agree that it is very or extremely important for citizens to have access to fact-based journalism. They want advice from experts and information based on facts, both traits that support a healthy democracy.

These results come from the 2021 CanTrust Index, created by Proof Strategies, the English Canada partner agency of Capital-Image. It is one of the largest studies of trust by Canadians in leaders, sources and institutions. The survey of 1,517 Canadians, including 364 Quebecers, was conducted January 8-20, 2021, following almost a year of pandemic disruption and deaths, racial inequalities coming to a boiling point and an economic recession affecting millions of workers.

“Canadians are telling us very clearly who they trust to get us through the pandemic, and the advice they want comes from labs not legislatures and medicine not management,” said Bruce MacLellan, President and CEO of Proof Strategies.

The three sources of “reliable information” that Quebecers trust the most are doctors at 82% (81% for Canada as a whole), scientists at 78% (77% for Canada), followed by family members and friends at 64% (same percentage as for all of Canada). Educators are trusted at 62% (same percentage for Canada). In contrast, business executives are trusted by 28% of Quebecers (24% for Canada) and politicians by 26% (18% for Canada). Despite Quebecers’ low level of trust towards politicians, it is the largest difference in percentage compared to Canada as a whole.

The CanTrust Index, now in its sixth year, has consistently shown high trust levels among Quebecers and Canadians for their key public services such as healthcare, education and the military. Canadians trust government services and the public sector, but not the politicians who oversee it.

“Despite the many differences between Quebec and the rest of Canada, the results of the new CanTrust Index show that they have very similar models of trust, which is important to promote a real dialogue and good social cohesion,” said Silvie Letendre, President and Co-Executive Director of Capital-Image. “While fake news, conspiracy theories and polarization are major problems in the United States, luckily it is not the case in Canada”. 

Employers receive falling grades

Canada’s employees are giving a poor grade to their own employers about their capacity to build trust during this pandemic. Overall, employees give employers a D grade in January 2021, down from a C- in January 2020. Frontline service workers, a group severely tested by the pandemic, have dropped the grade of their employers from C- to D-.

For Canada as a whole, trust in large corporations remains very low at 27%. Similarly, trust in management is at 28% and boards of directors at 26%. For Quebecers, these numbers are considerably higher, being 35%, 38% and 38% respectively. In positive findings, trust in Canadian financial markets increased over the year from 36% to 43% for Canadians and 53% for Quebecers only. 

Quebecers’ trust towards traditional media is greater than that of Canadians as a whole. Among Quebecers, 61% say that they trust information provided by newspapers, television and traditional radio, compared to 55% for Canada as a whole. In addition, 41% of Quebecers say that they trust opinions expressed in the media, compared to 33% for all of Canada. 

The drivers of corporate trust

Organizations should have deliberate plans for maintaining and building trust and be more aware of warning signs when trust is being eroded. Preserving trust requires intentional effort, every day by everyone. It should not be left to chance.

When asked what behaviour will make a company or brand more trustworthy, Quebecers are more likely than other Canadians to trust a company that shares their values and advocates for social change: having values close to my own (67% of all Canadians and 71% of Quebecers), a focus on employee safety and well-being (67% versus 71%), having a leader that communicates openly (63% versus 67%), advocating for positive social change (58% versus 64%) and committing to inclusion and diversity (57% versus 62%).

Trust in reliable information about COVID-19 and vaccines

For reliable information about COVID-19, 63% of Canadians and 64% of Quebecers trust Canada’s Chief Medical Officer of Health. 61% of Canadians (same for Quebecers) trust their provincial health officer and 59% (64% of Quebecers) trust the World Health Organization. The influence of CEOs in discussing the pandemic is limited, as only 24% of Canadians (and 30% of Quebecers) trust this group on the topic of COVID-19. In the middle, 46% of Canadians (and 53% of Quebecers) say they trust journalists for COVID-19 information. 

Overall, 64% of Canadians and 65% of Quebecers say they trust COVID-19 vaccines to be safe and effective. Among lower-income Canadians, trust in vaccines is significantly lower at 50%.

Seven-in-ten Canadians and Quebecers are checking news sources regularly for pandemic updates, with 28% of Canadians and 23% of Quebecers seeking news multiple times a day and 42% of Canadians and 45% of Quebecers checking every day or so, underscoring both the dominance of the issue and the trust in the news media.

Trust towards political leaders

The study revealed that Canadians’ trust in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is now at 32%, down from 39% a year ago. His trust levels have fallen over the year in all five regions of the country. In Quebec, his level of trust is superior to the national average, at 38%.

Quebec’s Premier François Legault has the trust of 45% of Quebecers, the highest percentage among all province leaders. Ontario Premier Doug Ford has the trust of 33% of his population, while John Horgan of British Columbia received a score of 38%. The lowest trust level among premiers is that of Jason Kenney of Alberta at 21%.

Racism and equality

In a year when racism and social inequity came to the forefront, 59% of Canadians identify individual citizens as having the greatest responsibility to address these issues, followed closely by the federal (58%) and provincial (57%) governments). On a scale of zero to 100, Canadians assign a score of 62 for Canada's record of providing opportunity regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or gender. Concerns about systemic racism are certain to shape trust in Canada and it is not a coincidence that trust in the RCMP has fallen 10 percentage points to 50% compared to one year ago. There have been several challenges facing the organization during 2020 and only 41% of lower-income Canadians now trust the RCMP.

Other Survey Findings:

  • Trust in hospitals remains strong at 67% for Canada as a whole and 54% for Quebec, while trust in the Canadian healthcare system is at 63% for Canada as a whole and 62% for Quebec only.
  • Trust in Canada's military is at 58%, with the highest trust in Quebec at 62%.
  • Facebook remains one of the least trusted companies at 24% (23% for Quebec), compared to Shoppers Drug Mart (known as Pharmaprix in Quebec) as one of the most trusted by Canadians at 56% and Quebecers at 63%.
  • Canadians and Quebecers are divided about how the pandemic has made them feel toward fellow citizens. While 31% of Canadians and 34% of Quebecers say they feel more together and united, 44% of Canadians and 48% of Quebecers feel no difference and 26% of Canadians and 18% of Quebecers feel less together and united. Atlantic region residents, at 37%, are most likely to feel more united and only 14% of them feel less together.

About Capital-Image

Capital-Image is among Montreal’s six largest communication agencies, with its operations certified A+, the standard of excellence in professional quality and service for public relations firms in Quebec as determined by l’Alliance des cabinets de relations publiques du Québec. Founded 31 years ago, Capital-Image Inc. is an integrated communications agency that offers its services in the following fields: public relations, marketing communication, social influence marketing, content creation and management, digital communication, corporate communication, and reputation management. Over the years, the agency has received over 25 excellence awards in communications and was one of the first Montreal communications agencies to acquire the carbon-neutral certification. Capital-Image has been a partner of Proof Strategies Inc. for 25 years.

About Proof Strategies Inc.

For leaders responsible for managing, protecting and building organizations and brands, Proof Strategies is a public relations and communications partner that "asks better questions" to create insight, grow trust and achieve prosperity. Founded in 1994, the independently owned agency has offices in Toronto, Montréal, Ottawa and Washington, DC.

About the CanTrust Index

The Proof Strategies CanTrust Index is a leading source of research and understanding of trust in Canada. We study and analyze topics, institutions, events and population segments unique to Canada and surveyed 1,517 Canadians during January 8-20 by online panel. (There were 1,813 total interviews done including the sample augments.) The sample is representative of Canadian population statistics by region, age and gende