Half of Canadians believe business leaders are misleading them

Edelman finds CEOs' credibility is down as consumers grow more empowered.

Canada is facing what Edelman calls a “crisis in leadership and expert credibility,” with Canadians’ trust in institutions falling across the board following a pandemic-initiated surge in trust in the spring.

According to the global communication firm’s latest Trust Barometer, trust in business fell to 56% in January from a high of 61% in May 2020. Similar declines were recorded with respect to trust in government (down 11% to 59%), non-governmental organizations (down 6% to 55%) and the media (down 4% to 54%).

What’s perhaps even more alarming for the business world is that 50% of Canadians think business leaders are purposely trying to mislead them by saying things they know to be false or grossly exaggerated – roughly the same proportion of Canadians (46%) who believe politicians are doing the same.

The results of Edelman’s annual survey come on the heels of a similar trust survey by Proof Strategies’ CanTrust Index and suggest Canadian leaders across the business, political and religious spectrum are failing to maintain credibility with Canadians following a sustained health and economic crisis across the country.

According to Edelman’s survey, since this time last year, the credibility of CEOs has dropped five percentage points, and only 29% of Canadians now believe they are a credible source of information. Furthermore, chief executives are among the leaders who are the least trusted to do what is right (39%), behind government leaders (45%), journalists (51%), “my employer” (58%), “people in my local community” (64%) and scientists (77%).

Declining trust in business leaders comes as Canadians’ expectations of them continue to rise and as consumers feel more empowered to drive change.

For example, 65% of Canadians believe CEOs should step in when the government doesn’t fix societal problems, and 69% say chief executives should hold themselves accountable to the public and not just their boards of directors or stockholders. Overall, 84% of Canadians say CEOs should speak publicly about one or more societal challenge, including the pandemic’s impact (59%), job automation (50%), local community issues (40%) and societal issues (40%).

The findings also demonstrate that consumers and employees are feeling increasingly empowered to force companies to act – which is something marketing and CSR leaders at major Canadian institutions have identified as a central driving force behind a new kind of corporate purpose that rests on companies taking concrete action.

According to Edelman, 67% of consumers and 62% of employees agree they have the power to force corporations to change. Among those who are employed, 46% say they are more likely now than a year ago to “voice my objections to management or engage in workplace protest.”

The 2021 survey was conducted by the firm’s data and analytics arm, Edelman DxI, and consisted of a 30-minute online survey of 1,500 Canadians nationally representative and weighted to reflect gender, age, and region distributions. It was conducted between Oct. 19 and Nov. 18, 2020, and was part of a global survey involving 33,000 respondents.