Yukoners have the lowest ethical expectations of their politicians in all of Canada, according to a new federal report.
In January, the Centre for Research and Information on Canada released Portraits of Canada 2005, a 16-page survey of “Canada’s opinions about government, each other and the country’s future.”
Between September and October 2005, the centre asked 3,201 Canadians to rate their elected leaders.
“More than eight out of 10 Canadians (82 per cent) judge the integrity of their leaders harshly, taking the view that most political decision-makers do not tell the truth or keep their promises,” says the report.
“This is an increase of nine percentage points over 2002 when 73 per cent held this view.”
At the head of the pack of discontent is the Yukon, where 16 out of 100 respondents gave a “high rating of honesty and ethical standards” to territorial leaders.
By contrast, 79 per cent in the Northwest Territories said their politicians are doing a good job of serving constituents’ interests — the highest percentage in the country.
“At the other end of the spectrum, Yukon residents are the least likely, by far, to give a high rating of honesty and ethical standards to their local or municipal political leaders,” says the report.
“Only 23 per cent give a high rating to municipal leaders, and only 16 per cent give the same rating to provincial political leaders.”
Premier Dennis Fentie did not respond to requests for an interview.
But the results were not surprising to opposition leaders, both of whom have criticized the Fentie administration’s ethics.
“My first question, when I was seated in the legislature, was to ask Premier Fentie, ‘What are you going to do to raise the ethical bar,’” said Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell.
“I’d heard this was the No. 1 issue when I went door-to door,” said Mitchell, who campaigned in 2005 for the Liberal leadership and a byelection seat in the legislative assembly.
“He sloughed it off and laughed at it and waved at the new seating arrangement and said, ‘That should be indicative of what I’m going to do.’”
Former deputy premier Peter Jenkins moved to the opposition benches on the same November day that Mitchell made his debut on the floor of the legislature.
Jenkins was involved in several ethical criticisms lobbed at the government, not the least of which was an outstanding loan that contributed to his ejection from cabinet.
“There has been a multitude of scandals, from Haakon Arntzen and the way Fentie handled that, to the whole loans issue, to the attack on the public service, which was scandalous in the methods that (the government) used,” said New Democrat leader Todd Hardy.
“The majority of disgust and mistrust in political leaders does centre around Mr. Fentie and his colleagues, and it’s shocking that it’s so low compared to the rest of the country.
“I take every poll seriously. Other parties dismiss them, if they don’t go the way they want them to, but every poll is a sampling of opinion of a person or people.
“They’re taking the time to call people and ask the questions. Depending how the questions are phrased, you’ll get certain answers.
“(Polls) are another level of contact to gauge what people are feeling.”
Whitehorse mayor Ernie Bourassa declined comment about the low rating for municipal politicians — 23 per cent — because just which communities were included (and what percentage of each) is unknown.
Association of Yukon Communities president Doug Graham also declined comment, saying there were too many other unknowns.
The margin of error for the report was plus or minus 1.7 per cent, 95 per cent of the time.
“In the sample size as a whole (the margin of error) is 1.7 per cent, 19 times out of 20,” said Lauren Dobell, spokeswoman for the non-profit, non-partisan Canada Unity Council that sponsored the report.
“In the Yukon, it can be around nine per cent, so we don’t draw any conclusions within that margin,” said Dobell.
“That’s the reason we take it in to the regions and talk to the people, to see whether this actually conforms with their expectations.”
The report pointed out a couple of other trends North of 60.
Only 13 per cent of Yukoners favour majority governments, with 83 per cent preferring minority governments.
And national results show most Canadians (78 per cent) saying that “protecting the environment” should be the government’s top priority.
Eighty-nine per cent of northerners agreed.
“While the environment is the first priority for all Canadians, it rallies the most support in the North,” says the report.
Spending more money on health care was the second-highest national priority (74 per cent) and maintaining a balanced budget was third (73 per cent).
At the bottom of 12 priorities the centre asked respondents to rank was “having closer relations between Canada and the United States.”
Thirty-one per cent of Canadians thought US relations should be the top priority, with the Yukon as the greatest dissenter.
“The policy choice of having close relations with the US resonated most strongly in Prince Edward Island, where 49 per cent viewed it as a high priority.
“The lowest level of support was recorded in the Yukon (15 per cent).”
The survey does not support the views of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
“Strong Canada-US relations are a priority for my government,” Harper said in Ottawa Thursday as he announced the appointment of Michael Wilson, a former cabinet minister in the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney, as Canada’s new ambassador to the US.
The Portraits 2005 report is available online at www.circ.ca.