April 14, 2014 – Angus Reid – The Translink plebiscite and the challenges of polling today in Canada

Angus ReidThe Angus Reid Institute was founded in October 2014 by Dr. Angus Reid, Canada’s best-known and longest-practicing pollster. He’s spent more than four decades asking people what they think and feel about top social, governance and economic issues. From 1979 to 2001, he was founder and CEO of Angus Reid Group, which grew into the largest research firm in Canada, with revenues of $60 million. It was sold to Ipsos SA in 2000. From 2004 to 2013 Angus was CEO of online panel company Vision Critical. He retired from the VC board in May 2014.

Angus has written numerous columns on economic, social and governance issues and well as the best-seller; “Shakedown: How the New Economy is Changing our Lives” (1996). He has a B.A. and an M.A. in Sociology from the University of Manitoba, and in 1974 he received a Ph.D. in Sociology from Carleton University in Ottawa.

He is the recipient of a Canada Council Doctoral Fellowship, the Entrepreneur of the Year award, and was inducted into the Marketing Hall of Legends (2010).

Dr Reid plans to present the latest survey data on the public’s attitudes and perceptions of transit in Metro Vancouver, appetite for a transit tax, and potential impacts on liveability and economic conditions going forward.


Notes on Dr. Angus Reid’s Presentation

John Gunn

Derrick Mullen introduced our guest speaker, Dr. Angus Reid, to speak mainly about the municipal referendum on transportation in Greater Vancouver, but also, peripherally, about the Angus Reid Institute which now engages much of his attention and the make-up of our regional government.

According to Dr. Reid, one of the differences between the USA and Canada is that in the USA the people hate the Government while in Canada the Government hates the people. Among other things, the Institute works to gain an understanding of people’s opinions on a wide range of topics, similar to the Pew group in USA. It is a not-for-profit organization attempting to gain a view of public opinion on big issues. At the moment it is looking at how the citizens of Vancouver and Victoria view their municipal governments. The media has been so downsized that their role as an opinion resource is severely limited. (Members are invited to look up www.AngusReid.org for data on this issue and others.)

In the early days of polling, it was primarily done by telephone call centres working the phones to get opinions. This has now changed dramatically for the better by polling ON-LINE. As he points out, polling was often done not to get a sense of the public opinion but to get answers which could be used for some corporate benefit. This was so well illustrated by his whimsical story of the two monks – one asked if he could smoke while praying (NO), the other asked if he could pray while smoking (YES) – a sure way of getting the answer you want is by wording the question correctly! Phone polling has now been superseded by on-line polling and it is greatly improved, especially because of the software they have developed to handle it. Among the benefits of on-line polling is that you can ask questions which you simply can’t ask by phone, such as sexual harassment in the work place, or opinions about palliative care and assisted suicide. Dr. Reid pointed out that they correctly called 42 of the last 43 elections, missing only the last BC Provincial election.

Concerning the referendum, a survey was done in early March and one thing was clear – over 50% of those voting NO were not going to be swayed – they did not trust Translink or the municipal people who handle the funds. The potential YES voters were younger and tended to be from Vancouver itself. Overall, at that time there was a 2:1 split in favour of the NO side. People who commute by car from the suburbs see no benefit to themselves by a YES vote. (Of some interest is the fact that 70% of those polled said that Christie Clark’s support of the YES side was bad for the YES side.)

The referendum, which he feels will likely fail, is a subset of a larger problem – namely the fragmented government in the lower mainland made up of 23 different entities – some large, some quite tiny with their “tin pot mayors” (his term!), each with their own agenda and each having some leverage in the broader scene. At the moment the GVRD is primarily concerned, officially, with water and sewage. What is desperately needed here (and in Greater Victoria) is a metro government as in Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, New York, LA etc. The people of this region really do not have a sense of who is running the show and how they are handling the money they receive from us. There is a crying need in Greater Vancouver for a new municipal party which will push for amalgamation of the city into a single unified entity. Their polls suggest that 60% of the people would like to see some change in this respect. This is something that should really be addressed by the Provincial Government. At the moment there is no “leader” of the YES side or of the NO side.


Questions and Answers

At the end of his talk Dr.  Reid was asked if he had done any polls on cultural matters.  Yes, for example he did one on ethnic and religious groups.  The most interesting one was in Vancouver, when asked what the main religion was in India. The answer from 75% of the people was Sikhism!  In reality Sikhism makes up about 3% of the Indian population! One question was “is this a referendum or a plebiscite?” He felt this was a question for lawyers, but he then expanded to wonder why the whole thing was being done and why were there so many local problems. He seemed to think that the whole exercise was very ill-conceived and he trashed the fact that they are using the mail as the medium. He put it down mainly to the fact, as mentioned above, we have a fragmented government with 23 municipalities – in other words, who is in charge?  He said he is embarrassed when he is in other countries and people talk so glowingly about Vancouver.  If only they knew how it is governed!

In answer to another general question, he said the problem of transportation is paramount and “Vancouver is off the chart” compared to other Canadian cities, even Toronto.  Another question posed was would Angus Reid get into politics instead of being an observer.  He did not give an unequivocal “NO” because he is so concerned with this very problem – the absence of a unified government in Vancouver except relating to water and sewage.  Another member questioned why we don’t hear about the COST (in lost time) as well as the discomfort caused by all this traffic gridlock.  His answer is the same – a non-functioning government in the form of 23 separate municipalities. No single entity cares, except in their own area. We also have a totally inappropriate police force – or really 23 police forces. Question – have you polled aboriginal communities?  Yes, and it is very difficult because the tribal leader feels he or she is the only one who should be giving an opinion. It just doesn’t work. (As an aside, he pointed out that anywhere you go in the world, if there is no democracy there are no polls taken.  In Russia, someone was jailed for conducting a sensitive poll.)    Another member questioned whether the voters connect the dots as to what will happen after the vote.  Answer – those voting YES really believe there will be improvement, those voting NO believe that the money would be wasted and there would be no significant improvement. The final question was “is ethnicity a factor in the polling”.  Yes, Richmond and Surrey were heavily NO, and those two places have a high ratio of Asian and Indian/Pakistani populations respectively.



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