Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Canadians Comfortable in our Surroundings

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, November 23 / 15

Zack Gross

Angus Reid, the Public Interest Researchers, have just come out with results of a new poll on Canadian attitudes toward their own neighbourhoods, communities and the country as a whole.  We live in a time when these feelings of well-being and belonging may be under siege, as we face news of terrorism, have just experienced our own federal and soon to be held provincial elections, and face the continued affects of financial recession.

In general, Canadians define “community” not only as their town or neighbourhood geographically, but also as groupings of people who share the same interests, which may be ethnic, religious, professional, sports, cultural, or others.  So, you may live in a certain part of Winnipeg or Brandon, but your community may be found at the Y or at a place of worship or at the Art Gallery.

Canadians find their geographic communities to be clean and safe, and offering of educational and healthy living opportunities.  So, despite recent attacks around the world, despite concern over long sojourns in hospital waiting rooms, despite global warming, we are comfortable in our surroundings and optimistic about what our communities offer.

We do worry, however, about the current state of the economy, about the prospect for growth and employment across the country and particularly about the prospects for youth.  As well, the level of satisfaction with life declines in larger cities, and that is where most young people are moving!  Those who live in small cities and towns are much more content while those in our largest cities are busy but not happy.

What are some of the factors that go into Canadians rating their communities?  One is affordability, how the cost of housing, food, transportation and other pieces of  their daily puzzle affect their satisfaction with life.  Again, residents of large cities are least satisfied with the affordability of their communities.

A second is public safety and surprisingly it has a very high rating, wherein 75% of women and 86% of men feel comfortable walking alone after dark in their neighbourhoods.  A third factor is our overall economy which is rated lowest by rural Canadians, understandably as many farm communities are shrinking and agriculture is seemingly becoming less of a factor in Canadian politics and identity.  The world is overwhelmingly urbanizing!

Canadians are generally happy with the educational and cultural opportunities in their communities but, particularly in smaller towns, don't believe there is enough to satisfy young people.  This is borne out by work that I have done in recent years surveying young people in Manitoba towns.  They wish for better jobs, more science, math and technical courses at school, more entertainment opportunities and would stay after graduation in their communities if these “mores” could be met.  The fact is that many leave, for Winnipeg, Calgary, Toronto and beyond.

Canadians who participate in, or at least use, community facilities fall into these categories:  they socialize with their neighbours beyond a quick hello, use the local library or rec centre, do volunteer work, and/or attend places of worship or clubs.  The most active community members seem to be older, female, university-educated, small-town and long-time residents.  In small towns, about three-quarters of residents say they are out and about, know their neighbours and keep track of decisions being made by leaders.

Polling done by Angus Reid shows that many towns have an almost 100% rating as “great places to live” by their inhabitants.  At the same time, about one-third of Canadians express a willingness to move elsewhere if the right financial offer comes along.  In our largest three cities – Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal – that rate of willingness to move rises to 50%!

A final question to look at is whether Canadians identify themselves by their neighbourhood, their city or town, their province or their country.  In this case, the tables seem to turn, and two-thirds of the people in the survey identify with their country first as ensuring the greatest sense of life's satisfaction.  Our federal government is seen as setting the tone for Canadian life and delivering programs that we will be happy with.  Our neighbourhood, our town and our province, in that order, rank next for delivering satisfaction.

One wonders if this last set of figures is influenced by the recent election of a new federal government and the “honeymoon” period that goes with that, as Canadians remember the election campaign promises that made them vote for the new people in power.  It would be interesting to test this out a year or two down the road. 

Either way, Canadians in general are pretty well satisfied with life in their communities.  Of course, some of us contribute daily to that quality of life through our volunteerism, our activism and our optimism, while others are less involved but still, in our “Canadian” way of looking at things, are deserving of the benefits of membership!

Zack Gross is a former Executive Director of the Marquis Project in Brandon.

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