Edelman Canada President and CEO Lisa Kimmel presented the Canadian results of the annual Edelman Trust Barometer at the Toronto Board of Trade this morning. Having worked with the data closely when I worked with Lisa, launch day is a bit like Christmas for me, and has strongly influenced my thinking.  

This year’s data reinforced for me both the business imperative and the opportunity that Canadian CEOs have to change the way our country talks about public and social policy, along with news of the day.

Consider a few stats and findings side by side.

  1. 50% of the mass population* say the system is failing them
  2. Trust in business is ≧ trust in government

3. Trust in regular employees (55%) > trust in CEOs (41%) > trust in government officials (38%)

4.  67% of respondents agreed that “It’s critically important for my CEO to respond to challenging times”, such  as industry issues, political events, national crisis and employee-driven issues.

So you have a huge proportion of the country that feel the system is failing them, suggesting something has to give. We have to change how issues are debated and how policy is made. They trust business  as least as much as government, and expect business leaders to be part of the solution. CEOs are more trusted than government officials, who are dead last in the trusted spokespeople category when forming an opinion about a company. And employees both expect the CEO to engage in the conversation, and are more trusted than the CEO in building company reputation.

And yet. CEOs, for a whole host of very valid reasons (including a difficulty in measuring risk), some poor excuses (e.g. it’s not my job), and a systemic lack of courage, have been completely absent in some very important political events over the last few months.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford fires Hydro One’s CEO Mayo Schmidt, forces out the board, effectively kills Hydro One’s deal with Avista, creating a hundred-million-dollar-plus break fee. The impact is a poisoning of the business climate in Ontario that (if we’re lucky) will outlast Ford. CEO collective public response? Crickets.

The Trudeau government sets out a plan for a carbon tax designed to curb pollution, and over time change business behaviour, in an effort to protect the environment. Collective business response? Crickets. Really? No one outside directly affected business had anything important to say?

(I will give a pass for the moment that CEOs aren’t speaking up about the SNC Lavalin/Justice Minister affair. That one is a hot mess.)

CEOs are simply absent from the most important public debates of the day, all of which are important to business. They are afraid. They believe it’s not their job. And they have enough on their plates without being told their employees expect them to wade into the headlines.

But. There is so much white space for the first few CEOs who are willing to speak up, take risks, and say out loud what they are saying behind closed doors. And that can provide them a competitive advantage that is good for business, including that their employees might stick around.


*See the Edelman Trust Barometer for definitions and survey methodology. It matters.