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New Poll Confirms Faith’s Role in Building Up Canada

People with the strongest religious faith are generally happier, more generous, and more engaged in their communities


April 13, 2017

OTTAWA—Almost 150 years following Confederation, faith continues to play a significant and positive role in Canada’s civic life. Faith was a central part of the Canadian project in 1867, be it through recognition of religious freedom for Quebec’s Roman Catholics, the principles enshrined in Common Law, or by borrowing from the Book of Psalms for Canada’s official motto “From Sea to Sea.”

Today, new polling by the Angus Reid Institute conducted in partnership with Faith in Canada 150 finds that 21 per cent of Canadians are religiously committed – mostly certain of what they believe and most likely to attend religious services, pray to God, and read the Bible or other sacred text regularly. Another 60% of Canadians are either privately faithful or spiritually uncertain, meaning they’re neither strong believers, nor rejecters of faith.

“Just more than 80% of Canadians report that faith and spirituality play a role in their lives,” says Cardus Executive Vice-President Ray Pennings. “While government is quite properly secular in Canada, society is not.”

Asked what’s most important in life, Canadians who are religiously committed were most likely to prioritize family life, honesty and concern for others. Conversely, concern for others was a lower priority for the 19% of Canadians who identify as non-believers – rejecting religious faith. Instead, they were more likely to select a comfortable life, self-reliance and good times with friends as important.

“Clearly religious faith impels Canadians to be focused outward and to prioritize others before self,” says Pennings. “If increasing numbers of Canadians embrace secularism, an important part of our national character could be lost.”

When it comes to community engagement and charitable giving, it’s the religiously committed who report the strongest involvement. Slightly more than half of non-believers say they are uninvolved in community groups or activities. That percentage drops to 17 per cent of the religiously committed. In fact, 41 per cent of the religiously committed have at least some involvement in their community, with another 42 per cent reporting heavy involvement.

Almost a third of the religiously committed say they regularly volunteer compared with 13 per cent of non-believers. Meanwhile, only 12 per cent of non-believers say they try to donate to whatever charities they can. That jumps to 43 per cent among the religiously committed.

The religiously committed are also the happiest amongst us. Fully 47 per cent of them say they’re very happy or extremely happy overall, compared with 35 per cent of non-believers. They also report the highest levels of happiness among friends and in their communities. It makes sense, then, that the religiously committed are also more likely to be “very optimistic” about the future.

Despite these findings, the same polling indicates a significant disconnect between the perception and reality of faith’s role in today’s Canada. The word “religion” is more likely to be seen negatively than positively, according to this new poll. Moreover, just over half of Canadians say they disagree with the claim that religion’s overall impact on the world is positive. And about half of Canadians polled say they’re uncomfortable around those who are religiously devout. Throw in terms like born-again, theology and evangelism, and just 15 per cent of respondents associate those words with a positive meaning.

“Arguably, the story of faith in Canada is not being well told,” says Pennings. “The narrative around faith is often negative. Religion is frequently presented as something that divides rather than unites people within communities.”

That is part of the reason why Faith in Canada 150 exists, to showcase the role of faith in making Canada the country that it is. If this is a country of compassion, freedom, and fairness, a large measure of the credit goes to those people of faith who embrace those values. And insofar as non-believers embrace such values, perhaps unknowingly, they embrace a legacy of faith in Canada. That legacy is a story worth telling.

For full poll results and methodology, please, click here.


About Faith in Canada 150

Faith in Canada 150 is a program of Cardus that exists to celebrate the role of faith in our life together during Canada’s anniversary celebrations in 2017. For more than 450 years, faith has shaped the human landscape of Canada. It has shaped how we live our lives, how we see our neighbours, how we fulfill our social responsibilities, and how we imagine our life together. To learn more, visit:

Daniel Proussalidis
Cardus – Director of Communications