Canadians appear to be on board with the government’s planned spending cuts.
That's the conclusion of a new poll by Nanos Research, which found 59 per cent of Canadians agree with the government’s objective of generating at least $4 billion in annual savings over the next few years. Only 24 per cent disagreed.
It was announced Wednesday that the budget will be presented on March 29. From a political perspective, the choice of date is interesting – the Ontario budget is expected to drop at around the same time and also feature potentially harsh austerity measures. The federal budget will come just a few days after the New Democrats choose their new party leader. There has been some concern in party circles that interim Leader Nycole Turmel would have to carry the ball in opposing the budget if it was presented before the leadership convention in Toronto.
But Jim Flaherty has said that the budget will not contain the details of the cuts. The same can be said of the Nanos poll, which asked Canadians to react to the abstract idea of cutting spending. Respondents may very well feel differently if the planned cuts affect them.
Reports are that the government is aiming at cuts of between five and 10 per cent in each department. The Nanos survey finds Canadians are largely comfortable with this: 48 per cent think the targeted cuts should be in the range of zero to 10 per cent (26 per cent prefer zero to five per cent, while 22 per cent prefer six to 10 per cent).
But fully 52 per cent of Canadians think the cuts do not go far enough, and that departments should be aiming for cuts of more than 10 per cent. One in five Canadians even thinks the cuts should soar to economy-crippling levels of more than 30 per cent.
Flaherty would be wise not to get carried away, however. The highest support for cuts in the range of zero to 10 per cent is in the Conservative stronghold of the Prairies (56 per cent), while 62 per cent of Canadians over the age of 60 think the cuts should be 10 per cent or less. This demographic votes heavily Tory.
The Finance Minister has indicated the cuts will not be overly harsh, calling his March 29 announcement “a jobs and growth budget” while also stating that Canada can erase its deficit by 2015, rather than the current target of 2016. But Moody’s and Fitch, two major ratings agencies, recently warned the government against cutting too much too soon. Steven Hess, the lead Canada analyst at Moody’s, said it could be a “risk to growth.”
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimates the cuts could put 60,000 to 68,000 public servants out of work and increase unemployment in Canada by half a percentage point.
This would be no gift to residents of Ottawa, who sent four Conservative MPs, including John Baird and Pierre Poilievre, to the House of Commons in the May 2011 election. With the National Capital Region likely to gain an extra seat or two when the electoral boundaries are re-drawn, the Conservatives may have even more to lose if the local economy slumps and property values drop as a result of job cuts to the city’s largest employer.
Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls, and electoral projections.
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