I have noticed that when politicians are confronted with bad polling numbers that they always use the "I don't believe in polls" or "We don't govern using polling numbers" excuse for ignoring what the electorate is trying to tell them. Apparently, as in most cases, politicians say one thing and actually practice another when it comes to public opinions.
In researching the vast database found on various Canadian government websites, I stumbled on this report on the Public Works and Government Services Canada website. The report outlines the federal government's spending on contracted public opinion research completed on behalf of various government departments by Public Works. The report is published to "ensure that public opinion research activities are well co-ordinated, transparent and provide value for money to taxpayers.".
The report states the following:
"Public opinion research (POR) is a valuable source of information used by the Government of Canada to incorporate a citizen focus in the development, implementation and evaluation of policies, programs and services. These studies provide useful insight into the awareness, views, and current needs of Canadians as they apply to important issues such as children’s health and safety, job creation, economic growth, food safety, supporting veterans and elder abuse. POR uses reliable, impartial and systematic methods to collect opinions of a wide range of Canadians or those that could be most affected by particular Government of Canada programs, policies and activities. Real-time feedback can also be obtained with POR, which can benefit Canadians in times of emergency or rapidly evolving crises. Information gathered is used to better understand the needs and expectations of Canadians, and gives them a way to participate in the ongoing discussion between themselves and their government."
In 2011-2012, a total of 100 projects were conducted. Here is a list of the projects and the total amount spent on each:
1.) Serving Canadians Better - $2,683,961
2.) Taking into Account Canadians' Needs - $2,061,329
3.) Informing Canadians - $1,768,534
That's a total of $6,513,824 of your tax dollars spent to find out what you think.
The one that I had to chuckle about was the "Serving Canadians Better" category. Public opinion research was used to understand how people viewed government policies, programs and services and how satisfied they were with the services provided. It provides the government with key areas that require improvement or change that will provide taxpayers with a higher level of satisfaction when dealing with government. Research into this aspect of Canadian opinions took up 41 percent of all tax dollars spent on public opinion research as a whole. Here's a hint for the feds; government "services" generally suck. I guess "service improvements" are why I can no longer talk to a live person at my local Canada Revenue Agency office.
The other category that was "interesting" was the public opinion research into "Informing Canadians". Apparently, the government "has a duty to explain its policies and decisions to Canadians". This category includes advertising pre-testing; if the government is going to spend more than $400,000 on an advertising campaign, the ads must be pre-tested. As well, post-advertising campaign evaluations are required when the government buys more than $1 million worth of media time. I guess that's why we are stuck spending tens of millions on those stupid and very tired looking four year old Economic Action Plan commercials and signage!
Here is a look at how much Canadian taxpayers have spent on public opinion research over the past four fiscal years:
Here's a list of which government departments spent the money:
Here's a list of which contractors were hired by the Harper government to survey public opinion and have benefitted from Canadian taxpayers' involuntary largesse:
What I find rather interesting is that the Harper government spends money on polling public opinion when it has quite clearly shown that, in many cases, it really doesn't care what the majority of Canadians want.