ARCHIVED Annual Report 2006-2007

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Highlights Of Key Public Opinion Research Projects

For this report, the 10 departments and agencies that were most active in public opinion research (POR) were each invited to present a brief overview of work conducted in the fiscal year. Their contributions follow.

Health Canada

In 2006-2007, Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada continued to make extensive use of public opinion research in developing policy and program initiatives, as well as social marketing and public education campaigns. The information collected helped ensure that the initiatives met the needs of end users or target audiences, including the general public, First Nations and Inuit peoples, health care professionals, non-governmental organizations, and other stakeholders.

Studies explored Canadians' views and experiences related to the environment and their health, particularly issues such as radon, chemicals and a proposed Air Quality Health Index. The Department's anti-tobacco campaign was bolstered through research on second-hand smoke, health warning messages, tobacco industry advertising, and both occasional smokers and "discount" smokers (those who purchase discount cigarettes). To help Canadians make healthy choices, research was conducted to inform social marketing campaigns on the topic of healthy pregnancy. These campaigns were directed at First Nations and Inuit women, as well as the general population. Research was also undertaken in connection with a revised Canada's Food Guide for both the general population and Aboriginal Canadians.

The Department seeks to improve the health status of First Nations and Inuit populations. In support of these efforts, research in 2006-2007 provided valuable insights on issues such as immunization practices, awareness of boil water advisories and reactions to them, healthy pregnancy, and suicide prevention.

Health Canada subscribed to a variety of syndicated studies to gain information and understanding about:

  • the current public policy environment, including priorities for the Canadian public;
  • various groups within the population, such as youth and seniors; and
  • specific health-related issues.

Over the year, the Tobacco Control Programme at Health Canada conducted three projects using less conventional methods of assessing program impact. The Second-Hand Smoke Campaign evaluation surveyed parents who smoked about their knowledge, attitudes and behaviours regarding second-hand smoke in their home. The parents were surveyed prior to the campaign and then the same parents were contacted after the campaign aired. The differences in responses to these two surveys, as well as the differences in responses dependent on exposure to the ads, were used as a means of assessing the impact of the campaign.

A similar longitudinal approach was used to examine the impact of two Internet-based programs intended to help people quit smoking. By collecting data from the same individuals over a period of time, Health Canada was able to assess the programs' short- and medium-term impacts. These methods allowed more reliable assessment of the Department's success in helping Canadians to lead healthier lives.

In 2007-2008, the Department will further investigate attitudes, awareness, knowledge and behaviours in areas such as pandemic preparedness, indoor air and water quality on reserves, food regulations, HIV/AIDS, patient wait time guarantees, and the tobacco retail environment and health warning messages. Research will also support upcoming campaigns on Aboriginal wellness, healthy eating and an anti-drug strategy.

Human Resources and Social Development Canada

Public opinion research at Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC) supports the Department's policy and program development, as well as its communications activities.

In April 2006, the Department conducted a series of focus groups examining Canadians' views and perceptions on child care issues. The research found that participants of the groups welcomed the new Universal Child Care Benefit. Participants with children indicated that they wanted choice and flexibility in their child care options.

HRSDC also conducted qualitative research among seniors and near-seniors to better understand older Canadians' views on various issues relevant to the Department's mandate. Areas of greatest concern for older Canadians were health care, the cost of living and infrastructure.

In January 2007, the Department conducted the first wave of a tracking survey on public attitudes toward HRSDC policy issues. According to the respondents, the Department's core strengths are promoting literacy, ensuring the sustainability of the Canada Pension Plan and the Old Age Security program, and enabling more Canadians to obtain a post-secondary education.

In early 2007, HRSDC conducted discussion groups and interviews related to the Department's Foreign Credential Recognition program. The research found that prospective and recent immigrants tended to access labour market information infrequently and on an ad hoc basis. It also found that, before coming to Canada, immigrants appeared to focus on priorities other than employment.

In 2007-2008, the Department is planning research on issues related to families, skills development, learning and disabilities. Also planned are subsequent waves of the HRSDC tracking survey.

Service Canada is the Government of Canada's one-stop service delivery network. It conducts public opinion research projects to improve understanding of citizen needs and expectations. The research has various purposes:

  • to help assess how Canadians view proposals or possible changes/initiatives;
  • to help assess the effectiveness of policies, programs and services;
  • to measure progress in improving services;
  • to evaluate the effectiveness of advertising and other communications activities; and
  • to plan and evaluate marketing and other initiatives.

Service Canada conducts surveys as well as face-to-face discussions. Its research tracks public awareness levels, tests communications materials and ideas, examines new Internet features and ensures that sites are user-friendly, and improves other access channels such as telephone and service centres. For example, a national focus group study in 2006-2007 sought feedback on a series of television, radio and print advertisements designed to raise awareness of Service Canada. Input at the stage of concept development helps ensure that the final product is successful.

In 2007-2008, Service Canada will concentrate on research that promotes organizational objectives such as strengthening citizen-centred service. Plans include major baseline research, such as general awareness and client satisfaction surveys.

Environment Canada

In 2006-2007 environmental issues became the top concern of Canadians, with the result that Environment Canada's public opinion research needs increased. In the past year the Department's research focused on issues such as chemicals and toxic substances, climate change, clean air, and meteorology. Also examined were issues related to ongoing management and human resources efforts within the Department.

Qualitative research tested and refined social marketing efforts used in connection with ecoACTION program initiatives. Other research included internally managed online evaluations of programs, products and services, as well as continued testing of improvements to Environment Canada's online resources. Of particular note, the Meteorological Service of Canada conducted its benchmark Products and Services survey, as well as large-scale research on air quality.

Environment Canada is promoting a new approach to environmental management that recognizes the links between environmental protection, health, economic competitiveness and quality of life. The approach will provide the basis for renewed consultations and collaboration with partners. For support, the Department needed a communications baseline survey that would include both quantitative data and qualitative focus group feedback. In March 2007, a national telephone survey interviewed a representative sample of 1,200 Canadians aged 18 and older (including an oversample of 200 northern residents). At the same time 10 focus groups were held—2 each in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Halifax in English, and 2 in Montréal in French. The findings will be used to help make Environment Canada's data, information and knowledge more accessible and understandable to Canadians.

Environment Canada's Air Quality Forecast Program is evolving in line with the Department's new approach. Air quality forecasts will focus increasingly on health and cover more territory. They will be more visible and more frequent. To support the shift, research was required to provide a baseline of public awareness, use, knowledge and perceptions of the Program. For this purpose a national telephone survey was conducted in February and March 2007 with a representative sample of 4,173 Canadians aged 18 and older, or approximately 400 respondents per province. The survey findings will help the Department measure changes in public awareness and use of the air quality forecasts, and will provide highly accurate data for program evaluation.

In 2007-2008, Environment Canada will continue to explore public attitudes on nature, climate change, air quality and water. Initiatives may include surveys of Canadians' views on nature, wildlife and conservation. The Department may also continue research into knowledge, attitudes and behaviours related to air quality forecasts and smog or air quality advisories, the Species at Risk Act, and meteorological services to Canadians.

Privy Council Office

The Privy Council Office (PCO) works to ensure that the Prime Minister, the President of the Queen's Privy Council, and Leaders of the House of Commons and the Senate receive the highest-quality, non-partisan, consistent, objective and appropriate policy advice and recommendations.

In fulfillment of this mandate, PCO's Communications and Consultation Secretariat regularly makes use of quantitative, qualitative and syndicated public opinion research.

The Secretariat periodically conducts a Corporate Communication Survey. This is a 20-minute tracking survey of 4,000 Canadians on macro-level issues that are of interest to the government, such as their views on what should be the most important priorities of the government. PCO contracts for the survey fieldwork but itself develops the questionnaire and methodology, and undertakes professional analysis of the research results. In 2006-2007, surveys were conducted in August, December and March.

This survey increases the government's understanding of emerging trends, and measures Canadians' views on key national issues and policy initiatives. The survey provides the government with longitudinal proprietary research and allows for statistically viable analysis on a province-by-province basis. It is an important support for communications and policy advice, reflecting the diverse views and expectations of Canadians across the country.

PCO subscribes to syndicated research to enhance its public environment analysis, supplement data from the Corporate Communication Survey, and track ongoing issues (e.g. national security) and/or particular audiences (e.g. specific demographics).

From time to time, PCO conducts qualitative research to better understand the implications of the findings obtained through ongoing quantitative research. The qualitative research is often in the form of focus group discussions. It is performed to gain a deeper and more nuanced understanding of Canadians' views. In the spring of 2007, PCO conducted public consultations across Canada on Canada's democratic institutions and practices.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

In 2006-2007, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) implemented a strategic management framework for public opinion research. This includes:

  • a forward-looking annual planning process;
  • an active POR advisory committee, with representatives from across the Department; and
  • time series research with Canadians, producers and the agri-food industry on broad corporate themes, issues and business activities.

AAFC also strengthened its POR advice and coordination function. It actively promoted the current guidelines and procedures and the new legal requirements for public opinion research. It shared research results and best practices, and developed a practical set of tools and checklists. The aim of these efforts was to ensure proactive compliance with the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada and the Federal Accountability Act.

The research conducted by the Department in 2006-2007 was strongly linked to a number of AAFC business priorities: environment; food safety and quality; business risk management; markets and international; and innovation and renewal.

Custom research studies included the following:

  • A Strategic Issues Tracking Survey examined the awareness and attitudes of Canadians and agricultural producers on key issues facing the agricultural sector, as well as priorities of the Department.
  • In China and Hong Kong, the "Branding Canada" program conducted research on consumers' food preferences in support of the Department's export promotion activities.
  • AAFC conducted a set of focus groups with Canadian health groups to better understand how they perceive the relation between food and health.
  • AAFC commissioned a second wave of research on consumer perceptions and behaviours related to food safety and quality. Like the first wave, this research was posted on the Internet and is widely consulted by academics, provincial governments and agricultural associations.
  • The Department conducted more in-depth research on consumer attitudes and behaviours regarding food quality and organic food, as well as the information sources to which consumers turn to learn about food safety and quality. For this research AAFC adopted both a quantitative approach (using an omnibus survey) and a qualitative approach (using a focus group).
  • The Department conducted a research project with producers, examining their farm business management practices and their use of government-sponsored training programs.
  • In early 2007 AAFC launched a client satisfaction survey that targeted producers, using the Common Measurement Tool. The aim was to assess and make ongoing improvements to the Department's delivery of programs and services to this key client group.
  • AAFC conducted focus groups with farmers and ranchers to reposition its Business Risk Management activities. These programs and services help farmers and ranchers manage the risks inherent in agricultural production.

The Department also purchased a number of syndicated studies to better understand what producers and the public expect of AAFC and the federal government, particularly in the areas of communications (including use of the Internet) and consultations.

Natural Resources Canada

Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) promotes responsible development of natural resources and provides online information to Canadians. In support of its role, the Department used a wide range of public opinion research in 2006-2007.

In the past year, the environment overtook health care as the top concern of Canadians. NRCan devoted much of its public opinion research to provide guidance for programs dealing with environmental issues.

A major focus of research during the year was clean air, which is a priority of the Department and the entire Government of Canada. Surveys were conducted on ethanol fuel promotion, hydrogen and fuel cell technology, vehicle efficiency, nuclear energy as a green source of electricity, and light-emitting diode (LED) lighting purchases. Research also examined other NRCan priorities, such as "smarter, faster" regulations, strengthening Canada's mining industry, and forestry competitiveness.

In fall 2006, qualitative research sought marketplace feedback about proposed names and taglines for Canada's new energy efficiency action plan. The Department conducted focus groups in Vancouver, Halifax and Montréal. The results showed that the name "ecoEnergy" most clearly communicated the intended message. This was the name eventually given to the plan, which provides Canadians with tools and know-how for using less energy, curbing greenhouse gas emissions and helping to reduce smog. The clean energy branding became part of the federal government's broader environmental agenda.

NRCan will continue to employ public opinion research in support of its policy and programs in 2007-2008. It plans greater focus on client satisfaction and performance measurement activities.

As always, NRCan will invest where appropriate in subscription and syndicated research to enhance public environment analysis and allow cost-effective investigation into the opinions of specialized audiences.

Industry Canada

Industry Canada's public opinion research supports the development and implementation of departmental policies, programs and services for individual Canadians and entrepreneurs. The Department undertook a number of qualitative and quantitative POR projects in 2006-2007. These included evaluation of advertising and outreach campaigns, client satisfaction and service improvement studies, and evaluation of websites and electronic tools.

During the year, for the third time the Department conducted its Industry Canada Studies—Business and General Public Waves. The aim was to gauge the views of individual Canadians and businesses regarding Industry Canada's priorities and performance, especially as they relate to government efforts to promote research and development and science and technology. This current study builds on the two earlier research waves. It tracks attitudinal changes over time while exploring new issues.

In 2007-2008, the Department plans to pursue its syndicated research program, while undertaking customized research in the areas of client satisfaction, service improvement, website development and website evaluation. Industry Canada will continue to investigate Canadians' views and awareness of mass marketing fraud and related issues. With other departments and agencies, it will explore key issues affecting Canadian entrepreneurs, including science and technology and reducing paper burden.

Department of National Defence

In 2006-2007, the Department of National Defence (DND) again undertook numerous public opinion research initiatives.

The Department subscribed to syndicated studies to gain a broad understanding of the evolving public landscape, particularly in the area of security.

DND's custom research projects dealt with three main areas:

  • understanding views on the Canadian Forces mission in Afghanistan;
  • profiling young Canadians to guide the Forces' recruitment efforts; and
  • measuring the effectiveness of advertising campaigns for recruitment.

The Department gives highest importance to tracking Canadians' views on the mission in Afghanistan. During the year, views evidently were evolving rapidly as media coverage intensified and arguments were articulated for and against the mission.

What was needed was a research platform allowing for unbiased, consistent and regular measurement of public support for the mission. This was provided by the Weekly Afghanistan Tracking Survey-a 26-week telephone survey measuring knowledge of the mission and support for it. DND's partners in the study were the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT). Among other things, the survey sought to assess the impact that knowledge of diplomatic and development activities in Afghanistan had on support for the mission.

As part of this study, DND also assessed whether activities in Afghanistan had an impact on recruitment. This was of interest particularly because of plans to expand the size of the Regular Force by 13,000 and the Reserve Force by 10,000.

The plans also led to efforts to create a comprehensive and current psychographic and demographic profile of the target population for recruitment. Other projects pretested the recruitment advertising campaign's creative elements and measured the effectiveness of advertisements.

In 2007-2008, DND will continue to monitor Canadians' views about security issues and the role of the Canadian Forces. With CIDA and DFAIT, the Department will again track Canadians' perceptions about the mission in Afghanistan. The Department of National Defence will also monitor the effectiveness of recruitment efforts and assess the success of public outreach activities.

Canada Revenue Agency

In 2006-2007, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) focused its public opinion research on its programs and services for the public. During the year the CRA ran its second Annual Corporate Survey, which examines what individual Canadians think about the CRA as a whole. The second survey provided data for comparison with the previous year's findings. The Corporate Survey will be conducted for a third time in 2007. This should allow longer-term trends to emerge.

The CRA continued to evaluate its electronic services for the public and particularly businesses. To determine business preferences, the Agency conducted usability testing of pages of the "My Business Account" section of its website. For the fourth consecutive year, the CRA also surveyed users of the website. This year the study shifted its focus from individuals to businesses, exploring how they use various online features and how satisfied they are with the site.

Other research during the year explored Canadians' knowledge, motivations and attitudes with regard to tax compliance issues. Another series of projects investigated current perceptions of the "CRA brand." The information was used to update the Agency's corporate communications materials and activities.

A number of projects initiated in the past year will reach completion in 2007-2008. These include further examination of electronic services such as "My Account" and how information is organized on the CRA website. The studies target both individual taxpayers and businesses. The Agency will also complete testing of its new benefit forms and its research on Canadians' views of compliance issues.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada

Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT) uses public opinion research to track Canadians' views, attitudes, opinions and values concerning international affairs. During 2006-2007, the Afghanistan file was the dominant issue. DFAIT collaborated with the Department of National Defence and the Canadian International Development Agency on DND's quantitative tracking research (see p. 28), while taking the lead on qualitative research to test key Government of Canada themes and messages.

Public opinion research was also conducted to evaluate programs such as electronic communications, Canada as a destination for foreign students, and consular and trade commissioner services.

For example, during the past year, DFAIT conducted research to assess its Consular Affairs outreach tools and the reference material it produces for travellers and travel professionals. The research also tested key messaging with main target audiences, and appraised whether travel agents view the information provided as useful and whether they agree to disseminate that information to their clients. Overall, respondents to the travellers survey regard the government-provided information on international travel as highly credible, particularly regarding safety and security issues, but they do not commonly use or see it as a primary information source for travellers.

The Department conducted short surveys on the Israel-Lebanon conflict, Canadian perceptions of Russia, the resolution of the softwood lumber dispute and Canadian attitudes toward global issues. Finally, the Department revived its International Trade Tracking Survey after a three-year hiatus.

With DND and CIDA as partners, in 2006-2007 the Department commissioned a study entitled Public Perceptions of Canada's Role in Afghanistan. This qualitative study included 14 focus groups conducted in urban and rural areas across Canada. It  was designed to inform policy and help departmental communicators understand the public environment in which they operate.

The research was intended to identify the factors that underlie views of Canada's involvement in Afghanistan. These include:

  • understanding of the role played by Canada and the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan;
  • reactions to key themes and messages appearing in the media during the preceding months;
  • reactions to new key themes and messages;
  • reactions to facts about the mission; and
  • the impact that additional information had on the views of participants.

Afghanistan will remain at the forefront of the government's foreign policy in coming months, with the continuing presence of Canadian military personnel and the activities of provincial reconstruction teams.

Other future requirements will include another follow-up evaluation of consular services outreach tools, another wave of the International Trade Tracking Survey, a follow-up study to the Virtual Trade Commissioner Client Survey, the sixth wave of the Departmental Communications Survey, and usability testing of certain DFAIT-managed websites (including the Canada International and missions websites) and assessment of their compliance with the Treasury Board Common Look and Feel standards.

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