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Attitudes towards government use of evidence among the Canadian public

Government transparency is essential to a healthy democracy. When it comes to policy-making, this means that the public should have the opportunity to see what factors go into the government decisions that affect their daily lives, and decide if they agree with the rationale shaping public policy. This allows citizens to hold their elected officials accountable for making policy decisions informed by the best available evidence. Troublingly, our new survey, conducted with Leger, reveals widespread concern among Canadians. We found that nearly half (49%) of Canadians are dissatisfied with government transparency on the factors that influence policy decisions.

Previously in our Eyes on Evidence series, we applied a transparency framework to assess federal and provincial policy announcements and found that both levels of government fare poorly when it comes to the transparency of evidence usage, meaning that it is difficult for someone outside government to find the evidence informing government policies. In our Eyes on Evidence: What We Heard report, we summarized key insights gleaned from discussions with federal and provincial public servants, elected representatives, and political staffers about internal challenges or barriers that impede transparency in policy-making. One common thread we heard from these discussions was uncertainty regarding whether there is public appetite for evidence and what is the appropriate level of information to share with the public.

Now, in a survey of 1,524 adults, we asked the Canadian public about their perceptions of the use of evidence by the federal and their provincial governments in decision-making.

Key Findings:

The Canadian public wants governments to prioritize evidence and transparency in decision-making. More specifically:

  • Nearly half (49%) of Canadians are dissatisfied with government transparency on factors that influence policy decisions, compared to only 25% who say they are satisfied.
  • Half of Canadians feel governments pay too little attention to evidence (53%) and public opinion (50%) and too much on political priority (52%) when making decisions.
  • Eight-in-ten (81%) Canadians want to see the key evidence used in government decision-making so they can better understand and evaluate decisions.
  • The public is divided about whether governments provide enough information for them to understand why a policy decision is the best course of action and how it will be implemented: 32% feel they have adequate information and 39% feel they do not.
  • Canadians are more confident in government decision-making if changes in policy are based on new evidence or the advice of experts (40% more confident vs 16% less confident). The public is less confident if policy change is based on information shared by affected stakeholders (33% less confident vs 17% more confident) or popular opinion (39% less confident vs 12% more confident).

You can also find the report in French.

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