On my radar this week

Alain Giguère

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CROP’s Radio-Canada poll and the Montreal municipal elections

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 11-06-17 at 2:50 p.m.

I don't mean to boast but I would like to point out how close our polling results for Radio-Canada (which we made public last week) were to the results of yesterday's elections in Montreal. The table below makes that clear.

Because ... every time we are told that pollsters got an election wrong, every time there are discrepancies between the last polls before an election and the final results somewhere in the world-it takes me a whole week to defend our industry. For once, my phone is blissfully silent.

Do you believe that technological innovation is a threat to your job or career? 26% of working people think it is (and Dialogues of the Carmelites by Francis Poulenc)

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 11-03-17 at 5:06 p.m.

"Disruption," a highly charged buzzword that is untranslatable in French-carries a hint of scorched earth and sectorial apocalypse.

One example of disruption is how the "new media" has undermined the entire traditional media industry, especially newspapers, leaving the players in a desperate fight to maintain their advertising revenues.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has also inserted itself into this dynamic of economic and technological restructuring. The economy is "digitizing" and "automating" at a faster and faster rate, and this acceleration is not about to stop. The rate is exponential. According to the law coined by Intel's Greg Moore, microprocessor capacity doubles every two years. As such, we can also expect an exponential explosion in applications.

Given this prospect of accelerating technological change and its accompanying economic disruption, we asked Canadians how they are reacting to this development: whether they see it as a threat or an opportunity.

More than two out of five (45%) employed individuals see this as an opportunity for advancement and training, 26% consider it a threat to their career or professional future, and 29% have no idea how they will be affected by these innovations. Note that we have observed no significant regional or provincial variations in these results.

Professionals and younger people are the most optimistic

Interestingly, professionals are the most enthusiastic occupational category in terms of seeing upcoming technological changes as an opportunity for them, whereas labourers and technicians feel the most at risk. The under-45s are especially optimistic about technological progress, whereas older people are more worried about it.


It's not surprising that labourers and technicians feel particularly threatened by technological progress. Robotization and the automation of industrial processes have already made many jobs in these occupational categories obsolete over the years. But what's different today is that AR is putting even professional jobs in jeopardy. "Deep learning" can automate many of the tasks that professionals handle now, especially younger professionals. But these are precisely the two most optimistic economic and demographic categories. It appears that people are not truly aware of what AR has in store for the economy in coming years, especially for the job market and young professionals.

Lawyers, accountants, engineers, and even certain categories of doctors (radiologists, in particular), are the type of professionals whose work to a large degree can be automated by AR, thus potentially threatening a great many jobs. So far, none of this seems to have entered the consciousness of professionals.

Innovation-professional development or the threat of exclusion?

 When we analyze the personal values and hot buttons of the people active in the job market based on their impressions of how the next wave of technological change will impact their job or career, we find that innovation plays a very important symbolic role in their attitudes.

Optimists see innovation and technological progress as a lever, a springboard, to help them reach their full potential and explore the limits of their possibilities. These individuals feel they have a great deal of ability and control over their lives. They see innovation as the way to assert this control, to realize their professional and personal potential-as the ultimate tool to get them where they want to go. Similarly, they see AR in the same light.

The greatest pessimists, those who believe that innovation is a threat, see technical progress as a source of social exclusion. Every time a major innovation is introduced, they've seen entire sectors of the workforce lose their jobs, with little chance of finding another job. Like many other segments of the population that I have dealt with in my columns, these pessimists have a rather apocalyptic view of society's future. Ultimately, innovation represents the end of work, at least for them. They believe that robots and computers will one day be able to do the work of almost the entire workforce. They feel potentially excluded and are worried about their financial future.


Apocalypse or resilience?

Technological progress has always transformed industrial and professional processes. Even though large sectors of the workforce have been negatively impacted at certain times, the unemployment rate in affected countries is still very positive today. There have been many predictions of apocalypse over the years, yet, despite everything, the job market continues to perform quite well in terms of job creation, displaying remarkable resilience. Perhaps the same will obtain with AR and deep learning, with the labor market enjoying another boost of resilience through the creation of new types of jobs. Perhaps the professionals are right in thinking that these innovations will present opportunities for new training experiences and new career challenges. We shall see.

Dialogues des Carmélites by Francis Poulenc

Over the centuries, history has recorded many economic, social and political disruptions, including the transformation of agrarian economies by the industrial revolution, which threw serfs and farmers off the land to supply the labour for fledgling industries at starvation wages. Political revolutions have also wreaked havoc and disruption on people's lives.

Which leads me to my lyrical clip this week: Dialogues des Carmélites (Dialogues of the Carmelites), an opera by Francis Poulenc. During the French Revolution, religious orders were abolished, and anyone wanting to maintain their affiliation in an order was sentenced to death. In this excerpt, Carmelite nuns refuse to hide their devotion to their god, at the cost of their lives. We can hear the guillotine slice off their heads in this sad and beautiful piece.

Francis Poulenc: Dialogues of the Carmelites, Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg, Jan Latham-Koenig (dir.), 2001.

Do you like to watch violent movies and TV shows? 42% of Canadians admit that they do (and Die Walküre by Richard Wagner)

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 10-23-17 at 11:38 a.m.

One of the most fascinating phenomena we've observed over the years has been the steady rise in the number of people who answer this question in the affirmative. When we asked Canadians if they agreed with the statement "I like to watch movies and television programs in which there is violence," 26% of the population did in 2004. By 2017, that percentage had risen to 42%!

From one year to the next, the hikes may be modest, but they add up over time. The upward trend is almost perfectly linear!

To meet the demand, the supply of violent entertainment has been growing apace. Hollywood and even our local television networks are constantly offering us new content in this genre. Not to mention the video games of the same ilk!

When I stand back and reflect on this trend, I can't help thinking there may exist some relationship between the steady rise in people's interest in violent media content and the declining crime rate across the country, including violent crime (Statistics Canada: Canada's crime rate: Two decades of decline). It's as if violence has become "virtualized." It may have abandoned the streets, but it has found a home on our screens!

Far be it from me to suggest a causal link between the two phenomena, but some kind of social dynamic around violence appears to be at work here. The media is providing a fantasy outlet for our aggressions, at the same time as the civilizing effects of empathy make us less violent as a society. (The aging of the population also plays a role.)

It is true that violent dramas regularly make headlines but, overall, "real" violence is declining in society, while interest in "virtual violence" continues to rise. There may be a few suggestible individuals who can be inspired by violent media content to commit violent acts, admittedly with often catastrophic results, but in society as a whole, we are witnessing a decline in "real" violence as violent content proliferates!

Lovers of violent media content present a very characteristic sociodemographic profile. They are over-represented among men, people under 45 and, interestingly, couples with children under 12 (understandable given the age of the parents). It seems that interest in this type of content starts young!

Note that Quebec is the only province that stands apart on this question, with only 36% of its population expressing interest in this type of content, compared to 43% in English Canada.


A desire for chills and thrills

Violent media content probably touches something deep within these viewers and gamers. Their values and hot buttons express a strong need for escape, for chills and thrills, for strong emotions and intensity. They want to flee the real world momentarily and be transported to a thrilling, fantastical universe.

This type of desire is on the rise in society and is accompanied by an apocalyptic view of life: a fatalistic and Darwinist vision of today's world, along with the feeling of loss of control over one's life. This kind of "mindset" is typical of the lovers of violent media content, whose numbers are on the rise in the country.

Violent content frequently deals with the adventures of a hero, who risks his life for a cause, often to save the world. The hero fights against "evil-doers" who bring disaster, even apocalypse. He may lose his way for a time but he eventually triumphs (and gains total control over the elements).

Violent media content acts as a metaphor in the imagination of the lovers of violence. It offers them a sublimated version of their apocalyptic vision and their lack of control over their lives. Violent content lets them fantasize about an quasi-supernatural ideal (or totally supernatural, like Superman, etc.), which helps them transcend the vicissitudes of their lives.

Interestingly, this type of "fantasy" is less prevalent in Quebec than in English Canada (although it does affect more than one in three Quebecers). The need for escape is just as present in Quebec, but it tends to express itself more as sensuality and conviviality.

Finally, one can hypothesize that this trend will continue over the long term, since the underlying motivations (need for escape, lack of control, etc.) show no signs of abating, and a whole new generation is being exposed to this content. (Recall that the lovers of violent content are over-represented among people with young children).


Ride of the Valkyries by Richard Wagner

This week, my clips present two variations of the same musical theme: "Ride of the Valkyries," the overture to the third act of Wagner's opera, Die Walküre. This music is the perfect accompaniment to the topic of this post. In ancient Germanic, Nordic and Viking mythology, the Valkyries were flying maidens whose mission was to take worthy warriors killed on the battlefield to Valhalla, the paradise in these mythologies.

My first clip is from the opera, staged in Valencia in 2007. The music is also well-known because it was used in the soundtrack for the movie, Apocalypse Now, by Francis Ford Coppola. My second clip is therefore the epic scene from the movie, where a Vietcong village is attacked by U.S. Army helicopters.

Wagner: Die Walküre, Zubin Mehta, La Fura dels Baus, Valencia, 2007, Unitel Classica.

Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola, 1979.

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