On my radar this week

Alain Giguère

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Would you vote for a populist politician? 60% of Canadians say yes, they likely would (and Parsifal by Richard Wagner)

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 10-06-17 at 3:15 p.m.

Louis Audet, the president and CEO of Cogeco, is very committed to the country's socio-political and economic causes. He recently commissioned CROP to do a study on populism in Canada, specifically on Canadians' support for a populist politician of the ilk who have emerged in the West in recent years.

In order to present respondents with a politician having the same characteristics as the populist politicians popping up around the world, we tried to encapsulate their main features and policies. Upon reflection, we found that these politicians had the following in common, usually promising to ...

• devote themselves solely to the interests of the middle class, and not pander to the rich and powerful;

• put a stop to immigration and the influx of refugees;

• put measures in place to protect the national identity and impose economic protectionism; and

• they present themselves as having broken with the traditional ways of conducting politics.

We combined all these elements in a survey question for Canadians (except for protectionism, since we know that Canadians generally favour free trade). To our great surprise, three out of five Canadians (60%) admitted that they would likely vote for a populist politician!

It should be noted that the demographic profile of a typical supporter of this type of politician lives in a small municipality, has an average level of education and is between 35 and 54 years of age. In fact, what we get is a typically middle class profile in the regions struggling with the uncertain socio-economic realities found outside our major cities.

A real political movement

I am fully aware that political predictions based on the results of this kind of survey question need to be considered with care. It would all depend on the candidate him/herself, the political stakes at the time, the team of candidates, and so forth. For example, when we ask people if they would like to have a Donald Trump-style politician in Canada, only 18% agree. But in this case, it is his style that puts them off. The populist policies mentioned above still garner 60% support in the country. This suggests that if a candidate were more refined and articulate, such a politician would have a chance of taking power in the country.

What attracts people to this political agenda is not uniform, and differs based on whether the support is strong or moderate. But the promise to devote him/herself to the interests of the middle class and not pander to the rich and powerful is certainly a theme that resonates with a plurality (41%) of the supporters of this type of politician. It appears as if a firm conviction has now taken root among Canadians to the effect that politicians only serve the rich and powerful, to the detriment of the middle class!

On the other hand, among those most enthusiastic about such a politician (26%), restrictions on immigration take priority. An intolerant mistrust of immigrants and refugees is fuelling support for a populist politician among the strongest supporters. These people no longer recognize themselves in today's socially diverse society, and feel that immigration is threatening the country's cultural identity. Whereas 48% of Canadians agree with the idea that "a too open immigration policy in our country carries the risk of losing our own identity," this agreement rises to 87% among the most enthusiastic supporters of a populist politician!

For these people, society is changing too fast. They feel that there is no longer room for them, and are fatalistic about the future. The immigrant becomes the symbol of a society that is excluding them.

Among more moderate supporters, cynicism is the motivating factor-a feeling that no one is doing anything for them, that no one cares about them, certainly not traditional politicians. They feel left out and vulnerable. What resonates with them is the focus on helping the middle class (to the detriment of the rich and famous).

A challenge for the political class

These results certainly highlight a deep disconnect between the political class and a large segment of the population. The fact that people feel that the political class serves only the powerful, while ignoring the middle class, should shake the confidence and question the legitimacy of our elected representatives. The amount of support for our hypothetical populist politician (60%) indicates a very negative perception of our political class and how it manages social issues. Such results certainly send a strong message to our politicians. They must rethink their communications, their connection to the people. They need to stop equivocating, put authenticity at the heart of their discourse and show they are really listening to voters. They also need to do a better job of educating people about the important issues of our times.

This education needs to be tailored to our new world order. The waves of migrants will continue. Innovation will continue to destabilize traditional businesses, in our regions and major cities. The socio-economic and political conditions that fuel populism are likely to grow. In such a context, Canadian democracy could be undermined.

It is interesting to note that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is doing a good job of deflecting this ambient populism at the moment. His emphasis on the middle class (at the cost of giving Netflix a GST holiday!) is certainly gaining the attention of Canadian voters for whom middle-class advocacy is a priority. It remains to be seen, between now and the next federal election, whether he's doing enough!

Parsifal by Richard Wagner

This opus by Wagner is the perfect accompaniment to this week's theme. The idea of a new "virgin" politician unfettered by traditional political mores recalls the Nietzschean superman embodied by some of the characters in Wagner's works (Siegfried and Parsifal, in particular). Parsifal is the hero who can free the Holy Grail's guardians from a fate of annihilation. According to the story, only an "innocent" young man completely unsullied by sin can save the community, innocence being understood here as the absence of societal acculturation.

In the selected excerpt, Parsifal resists the advances of the seductress and sinner, Kundry, while annihilating the magic and evil power of the sorcerer, Klingsor.

A superb aria sung by tenor Jonas Kaufmann, directed by François Girard for the New York Metropolitan Opera.

Wagner: Parsifal - Jonas Kaufmann (Parsifal), Katarina Dalayman (Kundry), Peter Mattei (Amfortas), René Pape (Gurnemanz), Evgeny Nikitin (Klingsor), Rúni Brattaberg (Titurel), Maria Zifchak (Stimme) Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, Daniele Gatti (dir.), Francois Girard (prod.)

Do you think immigrants threaten the purity of the country? 53% of Quebecers and 42% of English Canadians believe they do (and La Juive by Jacques Fromental Halévy)

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 09-25-17 at 4:16 p.m.

The influx of refugees across Quebec's borders in recent weeks has attracted much media attention, particularly in La Belle Province itself. It has relaunched public debate about the potential impact of immigration on the country's identity and the costs associated with welcoming refugees.

Because of this new situation, we decided to update the results of a question about people's attitude to immigration, one we have been monitoring for years: "Overall, there is too much immigration; it threatens the purity of the country "("Do you totally agree, somewhat agree, etc.?). While it might seem morally reprehensible to ask such a question, the answers, along with their evolution over the last few months, are very striking on a sociological level.

In August, with the flood of asylum demands at our provincial borders, more than one in two Quebecers (53%) agreed with this statement, a 16-point increase since January, when we conducted our last annual survey of the country's values! During the same period, agreement rose from 37% to 42% in the rest of the country.

We can probably conclude that the unprecedented arrival of these asylum seekers provoked a knee-jerk reaction from the public. The reaction was strongest in Quebec, because events unfolded at the gates of this province, but there was also some reaction in English Canada, thanks to media reports on the situation.

Refugees and immigrants, and the fear of "the other"

The sociocultural and sociodemographic characteristics of those who consider immigration a threat to the purity of the country are very telling as to what triggers such an attitude.

These individuals harbour a strong fear of social exclusion, if not an outright feeling of exclusion. They believe that society is changing too fast and no longer has room for people like them. They blame their exclusion on what they believe are the unfair privileges and accommodations accorded to immigrants at their expense.

They see the growing social diversity (from immigration, as well as from changes in social mores) as a threat to the balance in their lives. They are losing their bearings and the familiar guideposts that make "their" world recognizable. They feel that they no longer control their lives; they feel overwhelmed by trends such as immigration and the globalization of markets and societies.

These people increasingly see society as a ruthless jungle from which they can be cast out at any time (if this hasn't already happened to them). They feel that their social identity is threatened, along with the cultural identity of "their" country.

They also are becoming very cynical about institutions, ("traditional") politicians and society's elites, which they hold responsible for the laissez-faire attitude that has cast society adrift.

These individuals generally belong to a middle class that feels battered by social and technological change, and by globalization, with which, in their minds, immigration is associated. They tend to work in technical trades, are blue-collar workers, live in outlying regions, in small (often single-industry) communities, and have below-average levels of income and education.

Because they are different, immigrants become "the other," a symbol, an icon, a sign, depersonalized, dehumanized, the root of the disintegrating benchmarks of the traditional society so dear to those feeling most vulnerable. The immigrant symbolizes the peril that the new world order represents for them, and for society's traditional values.

This kind of social upheaval has begotten the rise of populism in most Western countries today. The influx of a record number of asylum seekers in August in Quebec has exacerbated the perceived threat associated with immigration.

A challenge for society

Although some countries have elected and will continue to elect populist politicians with platforms promising to curb immigration and globalization with identity and protectionist policies, the globalization trend will continue, and those who want to isolate themselves will suffer for it.

Mass migrations, such as those undertaken by refugees, will continue. The displacement of populations is likely to accelerate due to the effects of climate change and regional conflicts.

On the other hand, on a demographic level, our population is rapidly aging, and is no longer replacing itself. Immigration will provide the labour force so badly needed by our economy.

Our society, and our institutions, will have to find ways to encourage people to live together in an increasingly diverse society. It is not a simple matter of fighting xenophobia and racism. It is about promoting the richness of this diversity, the contribution of "the other," the value (not to mention the beauty) of his difference, as well as his humanity.

The appeal of populism will probably continue to grow. Some politicians were unable to resist riding the wave of populist fervour in recent weeks. The risk is that our society will be derailed. A Canadian "Trump" could emerge; democracy would suffer.

La Juive (The Jewess) by Jacques Fromental Halévy

If immigrants are now viewed as a threat to the traditional social fabric, Jews have been playing this role for centuries. Politicians have used Jews as scapegoats for political gain, to unite people around a cause by identifying a common enemy. The Jew was "the other," who threatened and corrupted.

So, as this week's lyrical selection, I propose an excerpt from Jacques Fromental Halévy's opera, La Juive (The Jewess). This opera is set in 15th century Italy. When people discover that a Jew and a Christian had sexual relations, the Christian is excommunicated and the Jew, killed.

In this aria, a Jewish father bears witness to the condemnation of his daughter to death (in a boiling cauldron) because he refuses to convert to Christianity. It's actually more complicated than that but ...

La Juive: Jacques Fromental Halévy - Neil Shicoff, Krassimira Stoyanova, Simina Ivan, Wiener Staatsoper, Vjekoslav Sutej (dir.) - Deutsche Grammophon DVD, 2004

Summer break

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 07-07-17 at 9:11 a.m.

At the start of the year, I began posting about the social and marketplace phenomena that, in our opinion, epitomize our era and reflect the profound changes we are currently experiencing. I have also had great fun choosing musical clips to underscore the posts' content, which has allowed me to indulge one of my enduring passions!

I was very pleased, too, when La Presse agreed to publish condensed versions of my blog posts.

Over the year, I have attracted many loyal readers, to whom I am profoundly grateful. I appreciate your diligence and your comments, which I have found very constructive.

Now that summer has arrived, it's time to slow down (hopefully!) and smell the ragweed. Consequently, the blog will be on hiatus until September.

Until then, enjoy your summer!

44% of Canadians are socially responsible consumers—an opportunity to develop an economic ecosystem with an ecological and social impact (and Wagner’s Götterdämmerung)

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 07-03-17 at 2:33 p.m.

A consumer segmentation based on values, motivations and mentalities

Markets, like our society, are no longer homogeneous. Diversity is the order of the day. To better understand and adjust to this diversity, we construct "segmentations," classifications designed to distinguish between the different "types" of consumers and citizens with specific needs and expectations.

CROP is currently working on a new model to help us better understand people's changing needs, especially their consumer values. Even though we have not yet completed our analyses or drawn all our conclusions (watch for upcoming posts), we have already discovered something quite fascinating: more than two out of five Canadians (44%) make purchasing decisions based on ecological and socially responsible criteria.

Social responsibility as a purchasing criterion

These consumers want to deal with companies and brands that are good corporate citizens-whose production and supply chains respect the environment, their employees and the communities in which they operate. They expect these companies to invest in causes, contribute to more equitable wealth distribution and encourage responsible and sustainable consumption.

For these consumers, a brand's promise of social responsibility is as important as its functional properties and price. There are even consumers who tell us that they are willing to pay more for products and services designed and distributed in an environmentally and socially responsible way (25%).

In our classification, the first two segments, The Concerned about Social Responsibility (17%) and The Zealous Consumers (27%) are truly passionate about ethical and sustainable products. The former (women, people 55+, and residents of small towns and non-metropolitan regions) are motivated by a marked concern about the ecological, environmental and social issues facing the world. The latter (young people under 45, higher-than-average income earners, and urban dwellers) are very enthusiastic about consumption, especially ethical and sustainable innovation.

The impact economy

Hence, there is a very large market for social responsibility, one that brands can no longer ignore. We can also postulate that the more initiatives brands and companies take in this regard, the more consumers will demand them.

What's more, the mission statements and business models of an increasing number of companies indicate a clear intention to have a measurable social and/or environmental impact. Such companies are not content merely to add a sustainable element to their offer; they have made it central to their mission. We are witnessing the emergence of companies and consumer segments that are aware of their impact on the world. At best, they hope to transform it; at the very least, "repair" it! In fact, these companies supply much of the demand by the 44% of Canadians who want to consume in a socially responsible way. An economy of ecological and social impact-an "impact economy"-is emerging and striving to leverage its growth.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that more and more companies are moving forward in this area, not all of them have optimum visibility (apart from the biggest national brands). Their supply and distribution chains are also not optimized. There is therefore a real opportunity to improve the efficiency of this market, which could have a ripple effect on the rest of the economy.

An ecosystem, a bank, a cryptocurrency: a model worth emulating!

Several daring and visionary projects are underway around the world to optimize and leverage the growth of this impact economy. The mission of some new banks in Amsterdam (Triodos Bank), Germany (GLS Bank), San Francisco (Beneficial State Bank) and Italy (Banca Etica) is to provide financing to impact companies by putting the savings of their customers to work for a beneficial social impact.

But, to us, the most interesting project is the one that popped up in in Montreal a few months ago. The mission of Impak Finance, a catalyst for "impact projects," is to create a collaborative ecosystem in which consumers can discover the companies and organizations committed to solving social and/or environmental problems. The goal is to put mechanisms in place that optimize the collaboration among the citizens, companies and investors who strive to put human beings at the heart of their concerns. In short, an ecosystem with a financial institution, impak Finance, and its cryptocurrency, Impak Coin, acting as a catalyst for economic exchanges that will transform the marketplace with a transparent and collaborative approach.

A genuinely collaborative economic system is about to be born. Its goal is to restructure a marketplace whose players already exist, but whose exchanges could be greatly facilitated to ensure its growth. This system will improve the connection to the 44% of Canadians who want to consume in a socially responsible way for such companies as Renaissance, Lufa Farms, Alvéole, Jus Loop, TÉO Taxi in Montreal, RainGrid, Chef's Plate, Rowe Farms, Twenty One Toys in Toronto, and Built Green and Ballard Power elsewhere in Canada, which all offer products that respond to the needs and expectations of these consumers.

A new complementary monetary system based on the revolutionary "block chain" technology (Bitcoin was its first user) is emerging. It will emulate these collaborative exchanges while acting as a "value reservoir" and accountant for this new gauge of socially responsible wealth.

Pressure on "traditional" brands

Not all the ethical and sustainable brands, products and services will be part of this impact ecosystem or use Impak Coin for payment (Procter & Gamble's eco-friendly dish soap will continue to be sold in "traditional" grocery stores). But as the impact economy gains traction, the brands and companies outside this ecosystem will feel increasingly obliged to incorporate a "sustainable" component in their product mix.

Thus, this impact initiative, even in our capitalist, market-regulated business environment, could change the world or at least improve it.

Götterdämmerung (The Twilight of the Gods) by Richard Wagner

I began this series of blog posts by introducing Wagner's "cosmic" Ring Cycle and am concluding it (at summer break) with a clip from the last opera in the cycle-a fitting finale to this conversation about consumer social responsibility and the impact economy.

Wagner's "tetralogy" can be interpreted in many ways, but we can certainly postulate an ecological meaning. The gods have failed in their duty to protect life, the cosmos and nature, resulting in their loss. An inevitable apocalypse washes away this fallen world, giving way to renewal, free from the corruptions of the past.

Redemption, a recurring theme in Wagner's body of work, is the theme of this clip, known as "the redemption motif." It is the finale of the "Copenhagen Ring Cycle." At the end, we see a child, who symbolizes the new world about to be born.

The "impact economy" is surely a way to forge a better world, one that might save us from apocalypse!

RICHARD WAGNER: Götterdämmerung, “The Copenhagen Ring,” Royal Danish Opera, conducted by Michael Schønwandt. Production by Kasper Bech Holten, Int. Release 07 July, 2008.

Canada and its distinct societies (and La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini)

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 06-26-17 at 2:27 p.m.

Quebecers and English Canadians still have very different priorities in life!

I thought it appropriate during this week between our two national holidays-Quebec's Fête nationale and Canada Day-to search our databases for indicators of the differences between Quebecers and Canadians from the other provinces.

It is fashionable to call Quebec a distinct society. But English Canada is one too, with its cultural heritage inspired by a secular version of the Protestant ethic.

Joie de vivre?

To describe Quebec's way of life as joie de vivre may seem "tired" and stereotypical. Nevertheless, this joie de vivre can be easily measured with numerous indicators. The results speak volumes especially when we compare the importance that Quebecers and English Canadians give to the following notion: "When entertaining at home, to impress one's guests with the way they are received and the food they are served."

Two out of five Quebecers (42%) consider it very important to impress their guests with the quality of their reception and cuisine, compared to 27% of English Canadians-a difference of 15 points.

A mix of conviviality, pleasure, pride and even challenge!

In fact, the true "Quebecness" of our results is revealed when we cross tabulate the results of this question with people's values and hot buttons. Quebecers who consider it very important to impress their guests when entertaining at home are motivated by a keen desire to feel proud, to prepare memorable meals (that now get posted to Instagram!). This can give rise to a healthy spirit of competition for the most interesting, best-prepared dishes, which raises the stakes for each subsequent invitation!

They also give great importance to maintaining emotionally meaningful and truly authentic relationships with others. This is conviviality at its most sincere and appealing form. Also on the table are pleasure and passion, along with an elegant and sensual presentation-of the food and by the guests!

In short, an expression of Latin culture in every way!

Dependence on institutions in Quebec versus personal responsibility in English Canada

Moving on to another issue entirely, agreement with the following statement is also very telling when it comes to the differences between Quebec and English Canada: "Society would be better off with more government involvement."

In Quebec, 55% of the population agree with this statement, compared to 31% in the other provinces-a difference of 24 points!

In English Canada: civic, social and community involvement

The marked disagreement with this statement outside Quebec (more than two out of three individuals, 69%) expresses a totally opposite vision of the role of institutions to that prevailing in Quebec.

English Canadians believe that the State should play a minimal role in society; that individuals themselves, as citizens, should assume their civic and community responsibilities. Mutual aid, social responsibility, ethical consumerism, community involvement-all values expressed much more strongly in English Canada than in Quebec, just like the belief in government non-interference in society and people's lives.

A fundamental sense of duty, based on the traditional Protestant ethic, underlies all these values, creating a kind of "cultural glue" for this civic engagement. English Canadians, like Quebecers, may have abandoned their churches, but this collectivist ethic, this sense of civic engagement, has become embedded in their cultural mores (along with a systematic distaste for bureaucracy among the more conservative elements of the population).

As was the case for joie de vivre in Quebec, this notion of a collectivist ethic in English Canada may also seem a bit "tired," a bit "old hat." Nevertheless, this kind of civic engagement continues to be a hallmark of the culture of English Canada, even today.

We are not saying that this collectivist ethic does not exist in Quebec, but it is certainly less apparent than in English Canada (quantitatively, in terms of "adherents"). The reflex, in Quebec, of demanding that our governments take charge our social responsibilities is still highly developed (much more so than in English Canada).

Canada is still the Canada we know!

Thus, even in our modern times, with globalized markets, culture, communications and media, the main cultural traits of our two founding nations remain. Our society, with its French Catholic roots (hence the predominance of institutions), still expresses these deeply Latin traits (the French in France also seem to expect a great deal from their institutions), whereas the other provinces, whose cultural roots hail from Anglo-Protestant communities, still display this sensibility, this social/community engagement.

On the other hand, the differences between Quebec and English Canada are less pronounced than they were, say, 20 years ago. Old-school Protestant asceticism is a thing of the past in English Canada, where we now find more joie de vivre in people's customs and values. (Toronto is no longer the boring town that Quebecers used to disparage. Our famous Montreal chef, David McMillan, recently declared that Toronto has the best restaurants in the country!).

At the same time, a collectivist community engagement is making few inroads in Quebec. We are not saying that it does not exist in "la belle province", but it remains significantly underdeveloped compared to English Canada.

Thus, our country remains the country we know, with all its diversity and cultural differences.

La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini

The aria, "Quando men' vo soletta" (When I wander alone in the streets, people stop to look at me), sung by Musetta in Puccini's La Bohème seems the perfect lyrical nod to my text. In this alluring scene, a beautiful, rich courtesan affirms her powers of seduction. In this portrayal of risqué 19th century Paris, we find all the archetypes of French joie de vivre: sensuality, passion, jealousy, showing off, enjoyment of fine food and drink-it's all there!

Giacomo Puccini: La Bohème, Mirella Freni, Gianni Raimondi, Rolando Panerai, Adriana Martino, Ivo Vinco, Franco Zeffirelli, Wilhelm Semmelroth, Herbert von Karajan, Orchestra E Coro del Teatro alla Scala, Milano, Deutsche Grammophon, June 2006.