Q-and-A with researcher who found politicians were the least trusted professionals in Canada

A photo of Prof. Chris Macdonald.

Prof. Chris MacDonald conducted a survey with the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson that found politicians were the least trusted professionals. (Courtesy Chris MacDonald) 

Politicians are the most mistrusted professionals in Canada.

Professors Chris MacDonald and Hershell Ezrin at Ted Rogers School of Management came to the conclusion after they lead a survey for the Jim Pattison Ethical Leadership Program. The survey was conducted by The Gandalf Group.

The public opinion pollster asked about 1,000 adults across Canada, in addition to 400 residents living in the GTA, questions about the ethical behavior of various professionals.

The study also found that twice as many Canadians don’t trust politicians, compared to those who mistrust CEOs. And three times as many Canadians mistrust politicians, compared to journalists.

Almost a third of respondents said they think politicians frequently accept bribes and nearly 40 per cent believe public money is used for personal gain. If a politician is dishonest in their personal life, 80 per cent can’t trust them professionally.

The Ryersonian spoke to one of the leaders of the study, Chris MacDonald.

The Ryersonian: What inspired you to conduct this survey?

MacDonald: Everyone already has the sense that Canadians are cynical about the ethics of political leaders. We wanted to go beyond that and to dig a bit deeper. We wanted to know how badly Canadians mistrust politicians compared to other professionals such as doctors, journalists and CEOs. We wanted to know which ethical issues Canadians are most concerned about. And we wanted to know what Canadians think are the causes of unethical behavior on the part of politicians and what they think the right remedies are.

The Ryersonian: Were you surprised with the overall findings?

MacDonald: Yes, the findings were surprising. Some of them were absolutely stunning. The fact that half of Canadians believe that politicians “frequently or sometimes” take bribes is shocking, and worrisome. Likewise, we surprised and saddened by the fact that one in five Canadians say that worries about corruption have led them to stop voting altogether.

The Ryersonian: What do these findings express to politicians?

MacDonald: The findings tell us several things. First, they tell us that Canadians have serious doubts about the ethics of people who hold public office. But they also tell us that Canadians believe that the real problem is the political system, not the people in it. We found that Canadians generally reject the idea that only crooked people go into politics. Rather, the thought seems to be that honest people go into politics and then the political system leads them into bad behavior.

The Ryersonian: How important do you think it is for Canadians to fully trust their government?

MacDonald: Trust is important. Without trust, people stop being engaged and stop voting. And it’s hard for honest politicians to build public consensus around important public policy objectives if voters believe those politicians are only trying to benefit themselves and their friends.

The Ryersonian: How do you think your findings will impact Canadians, are you hoping it will create a positive discussion?

MacDonald: We hope our findings will be a focal point for discussion. No one survey is going to solve problems as deep as the ones we’re talking about here. But we need to start the conversation.

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