Accountants and their politics, or: get off my lawn!

“Majority of Canadian accountants to vote Conservative” announced a Canadian Accountant article, just before our recent federal election.

The article informed us:

  • Six out of 10 Canadian accountants intend to vote for Andrew Scheer and the Conservative Party of Canada in the federal election on Monday. A poll conducted by Canadian Accountant reveals 20 per cent of professional accountants will vote Liberal, seven per cent will vote Green and three per cent NDP (i.e. the more left-leaning New Democratic Party).
  • The numbers reflect a historic preference within the accounting profession for a Conservative platform of balanced budgets, low rates of taxation and economic factors such as job creation and support for the business community. Seven out of 10 accountants who will vote Conservative reported that they have historically voted for the same party.

I should break the suspense for non-Canadian readers by revealing that, sadly for a majority of Canadian accountants, the Liberals won a minority government, with the Conservatives coming in second. The article has good fun slicing and dicing the poll findings, saving its rather significant caveat for the end:

  • A survey of Canadian Accountant newsletter subscribers was conducted from October 18-19 through the online survey company SurveyMonkey. Out of 146 respondents, 103 self-identified as professional accountants, a category including chartered professional accountants (CPAs), chartered certified accountants (ACCA), etc., who self-identified as eligible to vote in the federal election. The margin of error for a survey of more than 100,000 with a sample size of 100 is ±10.0 percentage points.

Now, I don’t mind revealing here that I voted NDP myself – given the margin of error, maybe I’m really the only Canadian accountant who did, or at least the only one who’d admit to it. When asked why, I sometimes like to say that I prefer left-wing fantasies to right-wing ones; it rather surprises me how often that response appears sufficient. Anyway, here’s an interesting additional finding:

  • Overall, professional accountants chose the economy, debt/deficit, and environment/climate change respectively as the issue that mattered to them most. Together, the economy and debt/deficit were ranked as the primary issue of 53 per cent of voters, with the debt/deficit slighter higher than the economy. However, 12 per cent of Canadian accountants consider the environment/climate change to be the issue that matters to them most, ahead of taxation/tax reform.
  • Conservative-voting accountants, however, roundly reject the environment/climate change as an issue at all. Conservatives chose the economy, debt/deficit, and taxation/tax reform respectively as the issues that mattered to them most. While, taxation/tax reform ranked a distant third as the primary issue, at only nine per cent of Conservative voters, it was the most popular third choice. Very few Conservatives ranked environment/climate change highly; 64 per cent ranked the issue in the bottom half percentile of issues and more ranked it as the least important issue than those who ranked it as the primary issue.

Commentators generally agreed that the Conservatives paid a price for their anemic approach to that issue. This is the Toronto Star’s Chantal Hebert:

  • The world has changed since (previous Conservative leader) Stephen Harper lost the 2015 election; one would have been hard-pressed to find any evidence of that reality in the Conservative platform.
  • It read as if the party had spent the past four years in a time warp.
  • …If there is one issue that is not going off the radar over the next months and years, it is climate change.
  • The Conservatives have spent the past two years all but inviting voters who worry about the planet’s top-of-mind environmental issue to shop elsewhere.

An invitation which, it appears, many Canadian accountants declined. As indicated, the poll may be largely meaningless, but if it means anything at all, it suggests a large portion of the accounting profession views the world with weary, retrograde conventionality. That’s their right of course, and people can certainly separate their political and professional lives, but it’s reasonable to assume for instance that people who “reject the environment/climate change as an issue at all” aren’t going to be lighting the way as leaders in disclosure on the topic.

The broader issue is that entrance to the CPA program requires “both an undergraduate degree and specific subject area coverage”: although aspiring CPA students can take courses to remedy gaps in the latter, it’s unlikely nowadays that many will try to enter the program on the basis of no relevant degree coverage at all. In contrast, a few decades ago, I was able to enter the profession immediately after obtaining an almost magically irrelevant degree in film studies and philosophy, and entrants from other arts or non-traditional backgrounds were common back then. The CPA profession values diversity in many of its manifestations, as it should, but seems unconcerned about this particular narrowing of perspectives.

Obviously, the profession can’t (and wouldn’t want to) set a specific goal of increasing the number of Green and (maybe especially!) NDP voters within its ranks. And yet, if such an increase naturally manifested itself over time, it seems to me it would mostly be a sign of health…

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author

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