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Canadians are facing tough times, but there are reasons to be optimistic

Canadians are facing tough times, but there are reasons to be optimistic

A pair of hands holding a small bouquet of daisies.

This piece was first published in The Hill Times.


After three years of being battered by global instability, lingering pandemic issues, climate emergencies, and inflation, the resilience of Canadians continues to be tested as we contemplate 2024. A new Ignite Research poll conducted last month for Imagine Canada, supported by BMO, shows half of Canadians are feeling less hopeful about the future compared to previous years.

Confidence is strained. Our trust in institutions is slipping. Only one in seven Canadians is certain they have a support system that contributes to their ability to be resilient, and one in three are bracing for adversity in the year ahead. Canadians are profoundly feeling these tough times. Inflation remains top of mind across all regions and age groups, regardless of being born here or elsewhere. Inflation also leads across political preference, even as two-thirds of respondents note increased polarization. For younger people, concerns are higher about diversity, equity and inclusion, and climate change.

Millennials noted food insecurity as a particular concern. GenX and Boomers worry about the healthcare needs of underserved Canadians. There is definitely enough stress to go around. And yet, contained within these concerning findings are key notes of optimism. Their common refrain? How we connect with others.

When asked about ways of creating optimism and hope, the findings point to community – maintaining personal connections, followed closely by helping others. Seeing family and friends in person and connecting online, volunteering to help others, and donating to a good cause were the standout ‘optimism building’ findings.

Within these tough times, Canadians’ willingness to support their communities continues to be remarkable, even as it’s challenged. The proportion of respondents saying they gave less to charity prior to the holiday season was up 11 per cent from last year, reflecting the economic conditions families are facing. Those who said the amount they would give over the holidays would be less also increased, from 20% in 2022 to 35% this year. Yet, during the traditional season of giving, about half said they still planned some donation – a number that remains largely unchanged over the past four years. Even after several years of hardship and underlying uncertainty, Canadians continue to dig deep.

Our need for community is not only found in acts of kindness or the desire for connection. We turn to each other in times of difficulty. The number of Canadians affirming they’ve needed to engage with a charity or non-profit to help with the impacts of a higher cost of living has risen to 17 per cent – almost double from a year ago. This is highest among lower income groups, new Canadians, and younger Canadians – with 30 per cent of GenZ needing help.

Simultaneously, diminished donations intersecting increased need is having an impact on the ground. In the Canadian Survey of Business Conditions, sixty per cent of non-profits that receive donations from the public confirm donors are not giving as much as they used to, resulting in a third of organizations having to reduce their programs and services. Fortunately, the vast majority of Canadians say they trust the charitable sector the most when it comes to dealing with key societal issues. They understand that the work of Canada’s charities and non-profits are what allow society to be resilient in times of great change and ongoing stress.

Ultimately, the resilience of Canadians rests upon the strength of our communities, generosity towards one another, and the organizations we rely on to support us. Our flexibility to withstand or recover quickly from challenging circumstances depends on it, now and in the years ahead.

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