A theme that has led to some commentary and debate is the state of Canadian politeness in our day-to-day lives. This is a complex issue to delve into.
When asked directly, more than half of Canadians (52%) think people have become less polite than they were five years ago. Women (58%) and Canadians aged 55 and over (62%) are significantly more likely to argue that civility is on the decline, as are Atlantic Canadians (58%), Ontarians (54%) and Albertans (also 54%).
The past five years have been unique, bringing nasty political campaigns at the federal and provincial levels, as well as the explosion of social media as a platform where dissent can turn into abuse in a matter of seconds. It is not shocking to see that only 8% of Canadians believe the country is actually more polite now than in 2014, a proportion that jumps to 16% among those ahead 18 to 34.
The long-standing notion – merited or not – that Canadians say “please” and “thank you” more often than residents of other countries was also put to the test. Most Canadians (51%) believe we are still uttering these words at the same rate as we did five years ago. Still, one third of residents (33%) believe we are not saying “please” and “thank you” as much as we used to, including 40% of those aged 55 and over and 43% of Albertans.
These findings would suggest that many Canadians yearn for a time when most of our dealings with other human beings included some pleasantries. When it comes to people who are directly rude or impolite, fewer than one in five Canadians say they encounter unfortunate situations “a few times a week” when shopping at a store (16%), at the workplace (15%), walking on the street (14%) or using public transit (13%). While these numbers may seem low, the repetition of these experiences can be enough to make residents more dejected about their interactions and focus on negative traits.
There are two issues where the incidence of bad manners is worrisomely higher. One in four Canadians (25%) say they face rudeness a few times a week when driving a car or riding in a car. Women are more likely to experience these incidents than men (28% to 22%). However, while Canadians aged 18 to 34 are the least likely to say that civility is declining, they are the most likely to say that they face impoliteness when they are inside a moving vehicle (30%).
The other issue is not particularly shocking. Three in 10 Canadians (31%) deal with someone being rude and/or impolite using social media, including 37% of women and 46% of those aged 18 to 34. Practically half of Canada’s youngest adults have started to get used to insults when on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
As we can see, Canadians have little trouble reporting what has gone wrong. When asked what is definitely” or “probably” responsible for the current state of civility in Canada, sizable proportions of respondents point the finger at teachers and schools failing to teach students proper behaviour (59%), people being too busy with their lives (66%) and politicians engaging in personal attacks (69%). Still, the largest share of blame is reserved for three culprits: the famous (or infamous), technology and parents.
Practically three in four Canadians think civility is in the shape it’s in because of poor examples from celebrities, athletes and other public figures (74%).
Across the country, 77% blame both the influence of television and movies and technology that enables people to talk face-to-face less often. This amounts of a combination of content that can no longer be clearly policed – particularly in the era of downloads and streaming – and communicating through emojis and with phrases that would be inconceivable in an actual conversation between humans.
But still, the key culprit for the situation that some Canadians regret is upbringing. A staggering 84% of respondents to the survey think parents failing to teach their children proper behaviour is “definitely” or “probably” responsible for the current state of affairs.
One issue that was observed in our first survey was the fact that 56% of Canadians witnessed children behaving badly in public while their parents looked the other way. While Canadians are, understandably, putting some of the blame on technology and media, most want parents to serve as the gatekeepers of Canadian politeness for generations to come. Time will tell is we pass this test.
Results are based on an online study conducted from April 4 to April 7, 2019, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error – which measures sample variability – is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.