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Officials have themselves to blame for lack of trust from public

In the run-up to his election in 2016, Donald Trump tapped into a festering discontent that belied the rosy economic numbers bandied about by the supporters of the status quo. (Trump also drew on racist elements, low-information voters and outright fraud, but those are other matters.)

In that same U.S. election, Bernie Sanders, too, got a good response from better-informed citizens who also realized that the political and economic systems are a fraud, supported by the likes of Hillary Clinton … and every other establishment figure.

In 2016, the Republican party had no interest in Trump given his purported agenda to shake up the status quo – they were much less worried about his lying, corruption and criminality, all well known at that point. The Democrats also gamed the system such that Clinton, not Sanders was the nominee, an act that pretty much guaranteed Trump’s victory.

In the upcoming U.S. election, Republicans are in lockstep with Trump, knowing dog-whistle politics and outright cheating (voter suppression, gerrymandering and the like) are the only way they can remain in power. The Democrats, however, are eager to block Sanders again, along with fellow progressive Elizabeth Warren, though she’s tempered her platform of late.

Some people have started to notice a trend in all of this. It’s just part of the general decline in the public’s trust for those ostensibly in charge – and we’re right to be skeptical, because politicians, bureaucrats and the ersatz captains of industry are not acting in good faith.

A new survey in fact finds most of us consider major institutions to be run by the corrupt and the incompetent.

The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that trust in government, business, media and NGOs continues to drop. In this country even, we did not find one institution to be both competent and ethical, a combination of attributes seen as necessary to earn the trust of the public, as 62 per cent of Canadians feel the pace of change in technology is moving too fast. Despite high employment rates, Canadians are deeply concerned about their economic future. Only one in three of us believe they and their families will be better off in five years’ time. 

“The characteristics that made for a trusted institution in the past are not the ones that make a trusted institution today,” says Lisa Kimmel, president and CEO, Edelman Canada and Latin America. “Canadians want leaders of institutions to look beyond shareholders to consider stakeholders like employees. Ultimately, the battle for trust hinges on integrity, dependability and purpose. Institutions must demonstrate an ability not only to perform competently but also to do so ethically, by taking concrete action to tackle the right issues, in the right way.”

That’s not what we’re getting in the way of leadership, however.

At a time when more than three quarters of Canadian employees fear they will lose their job due to a variety of factors like technological change, a looming recession and jobs being moved overseas– Canadians don’t have confidence in their leaders to address the challenge.

We’ve been embroiled in decades of declining real incomes and the loss of good jobs. Workers find themselves in precarious part-time or self-employed positions. For many of those lucky enough to find full-time jobs, compensation levels are falling. The prospects for a better future are fading.

Again, it’s the numbers that tell the tale, as seen in the employment quality indices compiled by CIBC economist Benjamin Tal, who details a steady decline in job quality over the last two decades, eroding our ability to deal with future economic downturns, which are inevitable.

“Regardless of how you measure it, by occupation, by industry and more directly by income, the overall quality of employment in Canada is on a decline. Simply put, all other things being equal, lower employment quality means that the labour market must run faster to stay in the same place since we need relatively more workers to generate the same increase in income,” he writes in a 2019 look at employment quality.

The dimming outlook is not lost on Canadians. Lower quality employment has been the norm for decades, coinciding with the declining middle class. The growing pressures aren’t unrelated to record high personal debt levels as Canadians borrow to offset changes in the employment market.

There has been some improvement at the bottom level of income earners, but that is not due to the economy or employers, but to regulation.

Even government claims about job creation have to be taken with a grain of salt, however, given that the country’s population grows steadily each year – hundreds of thousands of new jobs are needed just to tread water.

What jobs are created tend to be part-time and precarious is often overlooked by governments falling all over themselves with any “good news” announcement – they have no interest in providing context for any numbers deemed positive.

Part-time and precarious jobs account for the bulk of the employment being created today. This is not just a blip, however, but represents a structural shift, along with the decline in the quality of jobs on the whole.

Look at the numbers and do the math: working more and making less in increasingly crappy McJobs certainly add up to public anger.

Critics of corporate capitalism, “free” trade deals and policy written by lobbyists have been pointing out the problems for years. Now, many more people have finally seen for themselves that the neoliberal emperor is starkers, and the sight is anger-inducing.

Expect more hits against the establishment, from leadership candidates down to people literally in the streets, from whence real change is ultimately going to come.

A little more local for your inbox.

Seven days. One newsletter. Local reporting about people and places you
won't find anywhere else. Stay caught up with The Observer This Week.

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Please read our privacy policy.

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