Dispatches

Exclusive: Nearly half of Canadians think government spent too much battling the pandemic

Even among Canadians who think the spending was necessary, there is concern about public finances

A person walks past a COVID-19 mural designed by artist Emily May Rose on a rainy day during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Monday, April 12, 2021. Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press.

Nearly half of Canadians fear the government spent more money than was necessary to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, according to exclusive polling conducted for The Hub by Public Square Research and Maru/Blue.

Even among Canadians who think the spending was necessary, there is still concern about the country’s finances. Seventy-three percent of Canadians are worried about the levels of debt being piled up by the federal government as it fights the pandemic.

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On the issue of spending during the pandemic, 48 percent said the government spent too much, with 42 percent saying spending was just right and 10 percent saying not enough was spent.

In the spring budget, the government reported a $354 billion deficit for the previous year, which saw unprecedented levels of spending to battle the pandemic. For the first time, net debt topped the $1 trillion mark and, according to the polling, it has left 36 percent of Canadians very concerned and 37 percent of Canadians somewhat concerned about debt levels.

Some attention shifting back to public finances could be a surprising development for the campaign.

In 2015, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau surprised everyone, including the competing parties, when he kicked off his campaign with promise not to balance the budget. Since then, Trudeau’s fiscal targets moved from a plan to eventually balance the budget to a goal of keeping the debt-to-GDP ratio steady.

The pandemic blew any previous calculations about debt and deficits out of the water last year, as governments at all levels pushed money out the door to keep businesses afloat and household budgets intact during COVID-19 lockdowns. It has generally been assumed by pundits that Canadians are less concerned than usual about government finances in the wake of these extraordinary circumstances.

But it might be that the conventional wisdom has swung too far in the other direction, with polling showing Canadians are concerned about public debt and affordability in their own lives.

Perhaps more worrying for Trudeau is that seven in 10 Canadians say it is not a good time for an election.

Asked to rank which leader was best at handling issues like managing tax dollars, job creation, monetary policy and reducing deficit spending, respondents put Conservative leader Erin O’Toole at the top of the list.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh tops the list for handling everyday affordability and housing affordability.

Perhaps more worrying for Trudeau is that seven in 10 Canadians say it is not a good time for an election.

When asked how they feel about the amount the leaders promising, 35 percent said the Liberals are promising “way too much,” compared to 17 percent for the Conservatives and 24 percent for the NDP.

Twenty-four percent of respondents said the Conservatives are promising “the right amount,” compared to 18 percent for the Liberals and 22 percent for the NDP.

When asked to rank the most important issues right now, 18 percent of Canadians put the fourth wave of the pandemic at the top. Health care comes in second at 12 percent, climate change and everyday affordability are at 10 percent and federal debt is at seven percent.

More than 52 percent of Canadians put the pandemic in their top five issues right now and 25 percent put the federal debt in that list.

Opinions on fiscal issues are also heavily influenced by age. Only 16 percent of Canadians aged 18 to 34 put the debt in their top five list compared to 32 percent of respondents aged 55 and up.

Younger voters are much more likely to be worried about housing affordability, with 40 percent naming it as a top issue, compared to 24 percent of voters aged 55 and up.

This research was conducted with an online survey of 1,500 Canadians on Aug. 25 who were selected from the Maru Voice panel. Although the data have been weighted to reflect the make-up of the country, no estimates of sampling error can be calculated because the respondents originally self-selected for the panel.

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