The Consortium on Electoral Democracy’s Democracy CheckUp surveys offer a unique look at how Canadians’ attitudes toward their democracy changed with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. The data, which tracks the views of Canadians in spring 2019 and spring 2020, show that during this period:
- Canadians’ satisfaction with democracy reached new highs.
- Canadians gained more trust in government, and in one another.
- Canadians became somewhat less cynical about leaders, less nostalgic for the past, and considerably less likely to express populist sentiments.
- Despite major positive change in public attitudes, Canadians were no more likely to feel that they have a say in what governments do.
There have been plenty of opportunities to spoil these effects, as governments are caught flat-footed in the face of a second wave. But we need to rethink the “decline of trust” story. Even accounting for a “rally ‘round the flag effect” caused by the pandemic, the movement toward trust and cohesion has been comparatively strong in Canada. Ordinary Canadians have not (yet) lost faith in the system en masse, and in fact — in one of the most difficult years in memory — they have felt more positive toward their leaders and compatriots. It is time for leaders to return that trust: to recognize that Canadians can be asked to take on a challenge, and should be given a more central role in designing the post-pandemic society.