Majority Of Canadians Support Grassroots Protest Movements: Poll

With the Idle No More movement by First Nations now marching across the country, including Edmonton, a recent poll shows Canadians are supportive of such grassroots citizen protests and strongly believe people should push politicians to do a better job.

The majority of respondents said they supported grassroots protests, including the Occupy movement and the British Columbia referendum against the harmonized sales tax. People are looking at other methods of political participation beyond conventional parties, said Environics pollster Keith Neuman, in an interview discussing the poll on Canadian values conducted jointly with the University of Alberta.

Also, when it comes to taxes, the poll suggests politicians are out of touch with Canadian values, adds U of A’s Harvey Krahn, a sociologist who assisted with the poll. It was conducted from Oct. 2 to 14 with a sample size of 2,001 people.

Keeping taxes as low as possible ranked last on the list of 12 shared values identified by Canadians, yet politicians, including Alberta Premier Alison Redford last week, staunchly rule out increasing taxes even when the province faces a serious deficit, said Krahn.

“There’s a disconnect between Canadians’ values and politicians on this issue,” said Krahn.

“Keeping taxes low is the absolute bottom of the list and Canadians understand they need to pay taxes for services,” he said, adding that Alberta support did not differ from levels across the country on these issues.

When asked about three specific grassroots movements, 86 per cent of those polled said they supported B.C.’s HST referendum, 62 per cent supported the Occupy movement, in which low-income people camped out in public places to rally against growing income inequality, and 56 per cent supported the Quebec student protest over increased tuition fees last summer.

The poll also identified 12 basic values supported by more than 50 per cent of Canadians. At the top of the list, with more than 90-per-cent support was “having a political system that encourages average Canadians to let politicians know what they think” — a value that speaks to support for Occupy and other citizen movements, said Neuman.

When asked if Canada should be a country that supports gender equality, more than 90 per cent said yes. Also garnering more than 90-per-cent support were public health care and respect for all religions.

The bottom four values were keeping taxes low even if that may limit services (52-per-cent support, with 44 per cent opposed), welcoming all immigrants garnered 71 per cent, a strong military garnered 66 per cent, and being a country without a big income gap between rich and poor got 63 per cent.

In the middle tier of values, 92 per cent said Canada should be a country with a social safety net, 90 per cent supported strict laws on crime, 88 per cent supported protecting the environment, “even if this slows down economic development,” and 85 per cent said all citizens should speak French or English.

The poll was done for the Montreal-based Trudeau Foundation which held it’s annual conference in Edmonton in late November on the issue of “The Common Good: Who Decides?” The poll has a margin of error of 2.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Steven Patten, a U of A political scientist, says these statements of fundamental values are important, but may not be relevant to modern politics, which is all about “targeting specific audiences” with specialized messages.

He also noted that Canadians might react differently when faced with a specific event that irks them, but the values would hold overall.

“Even if there were things about Occupy that Canadians didn’t like at the moment, the protest spoke to the underlying values that Canadians support — having the ability to speak out, and fighting against inequality and injustice — fairly progressive values.”

Those values are not quick to change, but they are also not the basis of political action, he added.

“To say Canadians under Harper have become more conservative would be a mistake. But politics these days is not about moving majority opinion. It’s about selecting segments of the population and how you frame the issues.”

Sophisticated parties send out a vague overall message “that’s nice, and then a different targeted message to subgroups that’s somewhat different. Politics will become more and more like that,” Patten said.

“We are beyond the age of big-tent politics and into micro-targeting,” he said, adding that parties gather data on individual voters by looking at online sources.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, for instance, in September sent thousands of emails to people in the gay community who had never had direct contact with Kenny’s office, said Patton.

It turned out Kenny got their addresses from an online petition of 10,000 people supporting a gay artist facing deportation from Canada. From that petition, he built a database for his office on people interested in gay issues. 

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