Trudeau Effect: Most Canadians Distrust Government for First Time in 17 Years

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau poses following an interview with Reuters on Parlia
REUTERS/Chris Wattie

A new poll finds that more Canadians distrust their government than trust it for the first time in 17 years, following a series of ethics scandals surrounding liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The poll, part of a global survey known as the Edelman Trust Barometer, also found a profound distrust of the nation’s major institutions and elites, with nearly three in four Canadians responding that they trust leaked information more than they would trust information deliberately published by a corporation or institution.

The Edelman poll finds that 43 percent of Canadians trust their government, with 57 percent saying they do not trust it. 80 percent of Canadians said they felt “the elites who run our institutions are out of touch with regular people.” To compare, in the United States, a nation often more distrustful than Canada of its elected officials, 52 percent said they trusted the government. This is up from 44 percent under President Barack Obama in 2015.

This is the first time in 17 years, since the tenure of Liberal Party Prime Minister Jean Chretien, that the poll found a plurality of Canadians distrusted their government. Even among those who expressed a general trust in government, Canadians appeared largely unconvinced of the quality of their current leadership. 61 percent of those surveyed answered positively to the statement “I do not have confidence that our current leaders will be able to successfully address our country’s challenges.”

The poll found that Canadians also appear increasingly distrusting of institutions. 70 percent said they believe statements from individuals more than they believe in institutions, and 74 percent said they would trust leaked information more than officially released information.

“We tend to be smug in Canada and candid and think that we don’t have the problems we’ve been seeing in the United States … I don’t think we should be,” journalist Susan Delacourt tells the CBC. The broadcaster attempts to blame the rise of President Donald Trump for Trudeau’s decline in the public eye.

In reality, there is little surprise in Canadians expressing distrust in their government when their liberal Prime Minister is embroiled in a number of ethics scandals involving lavish parties and outrageous leisure expenses. Trudeau is currently battling two ethics scandals: his unexplained presence at Trudeau Foundation parties, where he was subject to millionaire lobbying, and his New Year’s Eve private helicopter ride to an island in the Bahamas owned by the Aga Khan, the head of the Ismaili Muslim sect.

The Pierre Trudeau Foundation operates a variety of humanitarian efforts around the world. It also holds luxurious fundraisers to attract donors, which the Prime Minister attended. The Liberal Party bylaws prohibit the lobbying of the Prime Minister at such parties. Trudeau answered criticism of his presence there, admitting to discussing politics with donors but claiming his attendance was necessary to “create economic growth for the middle class.

His New Year’s Eve visit to the Aga Khan has proven the more formidable scandal and is now the subject of an unprecedented ethics probe against Trudeau. The Prime Minister’s office initially refused to identify Trudeau’s location after he had issued a New Year’s address urging Canadians to spend the new year, the 150th anniversary of the country’s establishment, together. Trudeau later admitted to riding in the Aga Khan’s private jet, a violation of both his office’s and the Liberal Party’s ethics rules, and told reporters “we don’t see an issue with this.”

Canadian Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson opened an inquiry into the visit as well as into the Aga Khan receiving millions in Canadian federal money for various foreign aid projects. The Aga Khan Foundation received, for example, $55 million Canadian dollars for an Afghanistan humanitarian project in 2016.

Following the opening of an inquiry, Trudeau excused his visit by noting that he had ridden in the Aga Khan’s private jet in the past, as early as when he was 12 years old. The Aga Khan is a longtime friend of the Trudeau family. “I have seen him many times since then for dinners at his place, I’ve been at various places around the world, and yes, in Christmas of 2014 I spent some time with him on Bell Island as well,” Trudeau explained.


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