TORONTO — You know times are tough when even Canadians’ trust in stalwart institutions is tanking.

But that’s exactly what has happened over the last year, according to the agency Proof’s fourth annual CanTrust Index, which basically undermines the idea that, despite confidence plummeting elsewhere, Canadians could very well be the eternal keepers of the faith.

“It’s troubling,” said CEO Bruce MacLellan. “For three years, I’ve been saying you can trust Canada to be different from the rest of the world. Now we are starting to see some cracks in that.”

The survey of 1,543 Canadians (a geographical and political mix) found that, based on a scale, overall trust in institutions has dropped to 39% — notably less than the 45% it was at last year and 2016, and the 43% it was at in 2017. That figure is an average of trust in all the institutions included in the survey including corporations, government and the media.

MacLellan thinks the decline is a reflection of the country’s domestic issues, not an extension of the populist movements seen in other countries, giving rise to major events like Trump’s election and Brexit.

The biggest drop in trust, for instance, is in energy producing Western Canada, whose residents are particularly disillusioned as the pipelines they need to sell oil and gas haven’t been approved. Atlantic Canada is hurting economically, too, leading to dissatisfaction with residents of that part of the country as well, he said.

Over the last four years, media and large corporations have seen the largest drops in trust — down 14% (from 54% to 40%) and 9% (from 29% to 20%) respectively.

But no institution was spared; Nonprofits, small to midsize corporations and government have all lost consumer confidence over the last year. So have CEOs and government officials, from local mayors to the prime minister.

Particularly notable is that CEOs are losing trust within their own companies, meaning they are putting themselves and their companies at risk by not paying their employees due attention.

“We don’t believe people have a conscious agenda for how they are building trust in their everyday operation,” MacLellan said. “It has to be a deliberate, 365 day a year conscious effort.”

MacLellan said that is a major takeaway for communicators, whose job it should be to make sure leaders don’t take internal, or external, trust for granted.

“PR people should be at the management table and hold their companies accountable for how they conduct themselves,” he said.  Knowing your audience, and what drives their trust, is key, he said, as is leadership taking action rather than just paying it lip service, he said.

“This is a warning sign for Canadians to think about our leaders and organizations and actions, and whether  we want to let this slide continue," he said.