A news story here. A columnist there. An editorial here. A new study of Canadian attitudes towards the federal government is slowly reaching out from the nation's capital.
The study, by Ekos Research Associates Inc. of Ottawa, found a massive gap between what people in the elite--the people who set or influence policy--think is important for government to do and what ordinary Canadians think is important. In a list of 22 values for the federal government, the two groups made strikingly different choices. Ordinary people think their government should uphold the values they cherish and act to put those values into practice. The elites focus almost entirely on economics--above all, deficit-cutting. That's the story in the table to the right. [see below]
What follows is an extract from the report, Rethinking Government '94, written by Ekos president Frank Graves.
The study's conclusions are based on a year-long survey of about 2,400 Canadians at large and 1,000 members of the corporate, political and bureaucratic elite. The study's sponsors are mostly federal government departments or agencies, including the Privy Council Office and the finance department.
Author Graves says that some people might consider him a part of the elite; his study wouldn't. He considers himself an insider, however.
Canadian society reveals a complex mosaic of crosscutting values and sentiments shaping attitudes to government. Individualistic-libertarian values coexist with collectivist conservative values--often with the same individuals. The continued rejection of elite authority in Canada (which began with the referendum vote) may be causing considerable internal conflict in the values of many Canadians. This is because of our historical tendency to respect authority--which the current research confirms as a still potent core value in Canadian society. It would be a mistake to underestimate the potential for many seemingly internally contradictory values to happily coexist with the same individuals.
An analysis of values, attitudes and priorities leads to the conclusion that most Canadians see government as a means for expressing core values. The country is a crucial source of identity and belonging (second only to family). Canadians seem to be seeking a higher-order moral community, and not merely a rational articulation of economic interests. There is a strong sense that the 1980s pursuit of materialistic-economic priorities has left Canadians disillusioned with the prosperity-minimalist government model and thirsting for a celebration of shared symbol, ideals and sources of pride. Unfortunately, the precise content and form of the shared symbols remain vague and there are a number of competing models of nationalism and moral community evident within diverse Canadian publics. These range from traditional-conservative models stressing heritage and unity to the more social activist, collectivist model underlying Quebec nationalism.
The comparison between the elites and general public suggests that...a profound gap exists between the public and decision-makers in the area of preferred government values.
Decision-makers place a much lower value on most of the values discussed above. Economic issues receive top attention while humanistic values are given much less attention. Competitiveness, minimal government and prosperity appear near or at the top of the elite values for government--the opposite of their positioning for the general public.
Compared to broader perceptions, it is rather like elites look at government through the other end of the public's telescope. Everything is attenuated. Not only is everything related to government reduced, it is also purged of its moral content. The elite perspective on government is smaller and more rational. It is also more literate and pragmatic. One might speculate about how humane and public-spirited it is.
Elites are fairly homogeneous in their values and attitudes about government. This finding is likely due to both their shared social class, and internal cohesion produced by the current fiscal situation. The elite consensus and the wide discrepancies between the public and decision makers suggest a chasm exists between those charged with governing our country and those being governed. Whether elites are correct in their beliefs or not, they are clearly disconnected from the views of the mass public; and the disconnection serves to underline the growing rift between the comfortable and insecure segments of Canadian society.
(text of July 22, 1995 Vancouver Sun article)
DON'T THINK THE WISDOM OF THOMAS JEFFERSON IS PASSÉ YET IN WHAT YOU ARE ENTITLED TO FROM YOUR GOVERNMENT? LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD: TAKE A BRIEF SIDESTEP HERE TO SIGN MY GUESTBOOK.
-IF YOU'RE NOT COMING HERE FROM THERE, ON THE SUBJECT OF "DEMOCRATIC VALUES", TAKE YOUR NEXT FOOTSTEP HERE.