Why Canadians Don’t Trust Ottawa

This article is for the political cynics.

In 2006, Ipsos Reid released a poll titled, “When It Comes To Professions, Whom Do We Trust?” The second least trustworthy profession in the nation was something called a “National Politician.” This should not be news to a political cynic, but it does beg the question: Why don’t Canadians trust politicians?

The easy answer is: Politicians get caught lying, and evidence of dishonesty is a good reason to deem someone untrustworthy. The problem with this answer is that lots of people get caught lying. NHL coaches lie about player injuries nearly every time they’re asked about player injuries, yet coaches are still held in relatively high regard. If it isn’t the lying, why are Canadian politicians so widely distrusted?

Is it possible that the people who chose to go to Ottawa were untrustworthy before they entered politics?

To test this theory, I researched the pre-political profession of every Member of Parliament. Then I compared those jobs with the Ipsos Reid polling data. Unfortunately, the poll only asked Canadians to rate the trustworthiness of 30 professions, and our MPs had held 96 different jobs before entering politics. However, there were 146 Members of Parliament whose pre-political employment was covered by the poll. Here are the findings:
A few things stand out. Fewer than a third of the MPs in this sample had a pre-political profession that was deemed trustworthy by more than 50% of Canadians. On its face, that’s a pretty damning evaluation of the people in Ottawa.

However, a closer analysis of the numbers reveals that there’s one profession with a disproportionately large (and negative) effect on the sample. Lawyer is the most common pre-political profession, and 75% of Canadians consider lawyers untrustworthy. If lawyers were removed from the sample, we’d be left with 53 MPs from an untrustworthy profession and 46 MPs from a trustworthy profession. That’s almost a one-to-one ratio of liars to truth tellers. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a damn sight better than our current standing.

So, cynics, the next time a politician says something demonstrably false into a TV camera, remember that politics aren’t necessarily to blame. The problem of lying in Ottawa may well lie with the lawyers.

* * *

Samuel Kirz received an MA in Creative Writing from City University London. He writes nonfiction on the topics of sport, culture and Canada; his fiction is about sex. To contact Sam, send mail to samuelkirz@gmail.com.