Source: The Canadian Press

Governments and companies have their work cut out for them to regain the public’s trust that was shattered during the Wall Street financial crisis that triggered the global recession, Power Corp. of Canada said Thursday.

“While trust has begun to be restored, we’re a long way from where we were before the crisis,” Paul Desmarais Jr., chairman and co-chief executive of the big Montreal financial and media conglomerate told shareholders at the company’s annual meeting.

Continued careful government responses to cut the deficit and constructive re-regulation of banks and financial services companies are required, he said.

Desmarais said the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 shattered the foundations of trust on which the financial markets were based. A Gallup survey found that public trust in U.S. banks dropped to 32% from 50% over two years.

“Trust deteriorated into concern, then into disillusionment and finally fear.”

The result has been that the public’s view of corporations and politicians has also taken hits.

Wall Street banks were hit with massive losses during the recession after they were caught with hundreds of billions of dollars in worthless loans and risky assets tied to the battered U.S. housing sector. Many were taken over by the U.S. government and bailed out to avoid a collapse that would send the economy into a depression.

Other U.S. banks consolidated or were wound up by regulators and things have begun to settle down in the sector.

In Canada, the big banks came through the recession in much better shape, in part because they avoided risky practices and the Canadian housing market remained relatively strong.

Desmarais applauded the Canadian government for advocating a gradual, measured approach to required regulatory changes in financial services.

“Trust and confidence is a crucial issue so I think everything should be done in a gradual way and I sense Canada is doing that,” he later told reporters.”

“I sense that many other countries are having more difficulties than we are and I think our system in that sense is being well served.”

For companies like Power, trust is a key component of investing in financial services.

It’s especially critical for the company’s operations in retirement savings and insurance, he said.

“For our customers to enter into a lifetime relationship with our companies there must be a high degree of trust in both us and the financial system.”

That means making good on pledges, integrity, stability and ability to show resilience in times of crisis.

Desmarais said Power’s business model, which includes strong oversight, and attention to risk are key strategies.

Earlier Thursday, Power (TSX:POW) reported its first-quarter profit surged to $224 million from a year-before $151 million on strong performances across its various businesses.

The Montreal-based firm, which counts among its subsidiaries Power Financial Corp. (TSX:PWF), said Thursday its operating earnings rose to $381 million from $252 million, driven by a higher contribution from Power Financial but partly offset by a lower income from investments.

Power Financial’s own subsidiaries include insurance giant Great-West Lifeco Inc. (TSX:GWO) and IGM Financial Inc. (TSX:IGM), Canada’s largest mutual fund operator.

Revenues jumped to $9 billion from $5.6 billion in the same period a year earlier, when it recorded a loss in the change in fair value on held-for-trading assets of $1.97 billion.

From all of Power Corp.’s subsidiaries, $239 million was contributed to the parent’s operating earnings, up from $147 million in the corresponding period of 2009.

Power Corp. reported net earnings per share of 47 cents for the period, up from 31 cents per share in the first quarter of 2009.

On the TSX, Power Corp. shares closed at $27.19, down 82 cents, or 2.93 per cent.