Canadians, on average, have been gradually pulling away from values associated with deference to authority and moving toward increasing individuality.


Have you ever wondered why opposition to development seems to be on the rise in Canada? From drilling in city limits, to wind turbines, power lines and pipelines, it sometimes seems that everywhere you look, some group of Canadians is rallying against something.


What is behind this new opposition-ism? Canadian social values, and their evolution over the past few decades, tell an important part of the story.


The Canadian Social Evolution

Social values are the deep-seated beliefs and orientations that underlie our opinions on the issues of the day. Over the past couple of decades, our research indicates that Canadians, on average, have been gradually pulling away from values associated with deference to authority and moving toward increasing individuality.

While at one time many Canadians would conform to the expectations of authority figures, and follow the customs and demands of institutions and ideologies, these days they are increasingly unwilling, or uncomfortable, deferring to authority and instead are interested in making their own choices about their lives: what kind of family they want, what kind of God (if any) to worship, and what kind of work they want to do, including where and for whom.

This evolution has resulted in a population that wants a say in important decisions that affect them, and that just might stand up to authorities if it feels it hasn’t been heard.

Along with this growing individualism, our research also suggests that Canadians have developed a relatively strong sense of ecological concern, which can be seen in three ways. First, Canadians do not generally accept the notion that pollution is inevitable, or acceptable, in an industrial society. Second, Canadians do not tend to hold the belief that environmental damage is an acceptable price to pay for economic growth. Third, Canadians, by and large, tend to see environmental activists as reasonable people, rather than extremists.


How to Proceed?

While this combination of values sounds pretty daunting for those wanting to move forward with infrastructure or other developments, there are ways to ensure that these projects are aligned with the community’s values and expectations.

First off, not all Canadians hold the values described to the same extent. Averages are always formed of more or less varying ranges of views and outlooks. Understanding the values of the relevant local population is a crucial step in understanding what proportion of the population will support or oppose a development, and to what extent.

A detailed profile of local values will also provide guidance as to the type and nature of consultation required, inform outreach and communication plans, and provide direction in relation to community investments.

In short, an understanding of social values informs community relations, and enables organizations to tailor their efforts to the worldviews and preferences of the population they are working with.

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