Canadians maintain strong trust in doctors and scientists during pandemic

OTTAWA — Canadians appear to still have solid faith in doctors and scientists nearly six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, but opinions of educators have not fared so well.

A new survey done for Proof Strategies over the Labour Day weekend suggests more than eight in 10 Canadians trust doctors and nearly eight in 10 trust scientists.

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That shows little change from the levels of trust recorded in a similar survey from the beginning of May, and remains higher than the levels recorded by the same survey taken in January.

"We just don't get that level of trust for any other people," said Bruce MacLellan, CEO of Proof Strategies.

The survey was done by The Logit Group, interviewing 1,000 people from a panel of volunteers.

The polling industry's professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error as they are not random and therefore are not necessarily representative of the whole population.

The interviews were conducted Sept. 3-5, just as many parents across the country were preparing to send their kids back to school for the first time since March, after several weeks of delayed starts, changes of plans, confusion and concern about class sizes and health protections.

MacLellan said it's probably not surprising that Canadians seem to be losing faith in educators. In January, 65 per cent people surveyed said they trusted educators. In May, about six weeks after lockdowns began and most schools closed across Canada, that had fallen to 59 per cent and over the weekend, it fell to 51 per cent.

MacLellan said this is likely not directed only at teachers, but at all those involved in the education system, including governments, school boards and union leaders.

"There has been a lot of arguing and uncertainty," he said. "There is a widespread concern that there wasn't enough planning done and there wasn't enough health consideration about how to operate the schools."

Provincial premiers appeared to earn more trust from their constituents than they did before the pandemic, going from 34 per cent in January, to 37 per cent in May and then 44 per cent in September. MacLellan said many premiers were often seen working in lockstep with the scientists and public health doctors Canadians put a lot of trust in, which likely is boosting the premiers' numbers.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, however, who spent the summer defending his ethics, did not get the same boost. In May the percentage of people who said they trusted the prime minister was 39 per cent. On the weekend, that number was 32 per cent.

"There's no question that seven points is significant," said MacLellan.

Trudeau is being investigated by the ethics commissioner to see if he violated the rules when he did not recuse himself from a cabinet decision to award WE Charity a contract to administer a multimillion-dollar student grant program. Trudeau has long been a strong supporter of WE. While he said his close connection to the organization prompted him to demand more diligence on the sole-sourced contract, he did not recuse himself from the final decision.

WE backed out of that contract when the questions arose, and has spent the summer in the hot seat over its own actions.

MacLellan said the spotlight on WE might be why faith in charities fell slightly over the summer, from 56 per cent in May to 50 per cent in September.

Another notable number in the survey, is that after the several months of focus on racism in policing, Canadians' faith in police held firm and high. Faith in police overall was 58 per cent in the May survey, and 62 per cent in September, and trust in the RCMP specifically was 61 per cent in both surveys.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 8, 2020.

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