The health of Canada's economy is first and foremost in the minds of Canadians, according to a new online poll on attitudes about the government's main priorities.


Nearly 40 per cent of respondents said "strengthening Canada’s economic union" was the most important of the federal government's stated long-term policy priorities, according to a Nanos survey.


The online poll was conducted between May 10 and May 12 and asked 1,000 Canadians which of five different priorities was the most important to them. A margin of error cannot be determined for the online survey.


Nanos said the policy priorities were taken directly from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s official website.


Respondents were asked to choose from the following priorities:


- Strengthening Canada’s economic union.


- Cracking down on gun, gang and drug crime.


- Improving food and product safety regulations.


- Asserting our sovereignty in the Arctic.


- Rebuilding the Canadian Armed Forces.


Crime came in second place, with nearly a quarter of those surveyed (23.4 per cent) saying a crackdown on gun, gang and drug crime was their top priority.


The third most important priority for Canadians was food and product safety, at just under 22 per cent, with Arctic sovereignty and rebuilding the military coming in at about eight and seven per cent, respectively.


Last year, a similar poll that used a different methodology — a random telephone survey — revealed that only about 26 per cent of respondents singled out the economy as the top priority. Crime was the highest-ranking priority in that survey, at just over 33 per cent.


Regionally, numbers in the 2012 survey were quite similar, with the economy ranking first in every region. In Quebec, concern for product safety ranked second among respondents at just over 27 per cent, while 21 per cent singled out fighting crime as an important priority. Concern for rebuilding the military in Quebec did not even reach one per cent.


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  • 1. RISING HOUSEHOLD DEBT

    Canada's household debt burden climbed to yet another record high in the third-quarter, prompting Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney to call it <a href="http://www.montrealgazette.com/business/Mark+Carney+again+sounds+alarm+rising+Canadian+household+debt/5856418/story.html" target="_hplink">"the greatest risk to the domestic economy</a>." At 150.8, <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/12/14/us-economy-debt-idUSTRE7BC2DY20111214" target="_hplink">Canada's debt-to-income ratio is now higher than in the U.S. or the U.K</a>. Meanwhile, household net worth fell, which, as many observers have warned, has made Canadians more vulnerable to adverse economic shocks.

  • 2. SLUGGISH CONSUMER DEMAND

    Though BMO's Doug Porter maintains that low interest rates and modest job growth should prevent household debt issue from becoming "a clear and present danger to the outlook in the year ahead," he predicts that the debt burden is likely to increase. Unlike in the U.S., Canada's consumer recession was "very mild," leaving scant room for growth in consumer spending, he says. "At best, we see consumer spending growing in line with income next year," he said. "We've actually pegged it a little bit below income growth next year ... at less than two per cent in 2012." (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 3. EUROZONE INSTABILITY

    When TD cut its 2012 outlook for the Canadian economy earlier this week to 1.7 per cent, the bank cited a deepening fiscal crisis in the eurozone as one of the primary factors. More bearish than BMO, which on Thursday held its expectation for Canada's GDP growth next year at two per cent, TD is forecasting "a deterioration of financial conditions and a significant European recession in the first half of next year." "<a href="http://www.td.com/document/PDF/economics/qef/qefdec11_can.pdf" target="_hplink">A deepening recession in the region will exert a significant drag on the global economy</a>," the bank maintained. "Canada will be negatively impacted through weaker commodity prices, confidence and export growth. Labour markets will also soften as a result." (ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 4. CHINA LOSING STEAM

    The signs are abundant that the world's largest economy is cooling. Mounting local government debt and slowdowns in everything from industrial production to <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/story/2011/12/09/china-economy-slows.html" target="_hplink">the housing market has led many to predict softer economic growth in 2012</a>. "<a href="http://www.npr.org/2011/12/13/143623874/after-boom-chinas-property-market-heads-lower" target="_hplink">Real estate is a locomotive industry that leads at least 58 other industries</a>," Cai Weimin, who runs a real estate think tank in Shanghai, told NPR. "Doomsday probably won't come true in 2012, but for the Chinese economy, 2012 will be a very tough year. (Aaron tam/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 5. GROWING INCOME GAP

    As Canada's rich-poor divide widens, some experts warn that the concentration of wealth at the top of the income distribution and stagnating wages for everyone else could be a drag on the economy. Though Canada's income gap is not as pronounced as in the U.S., Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives economist Armine Yalnizyan argues that the growing divide is bad for business all the same. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/mind-the-gap" target="_hplink"><strong>Mind The Gap: Our examination of Canada's growing income divide</strong></a> "<a href="http://www.canadianbusiness.com/article/39123--inequality-is-bad-for-business" target="_hplink">Real growth in purchasing power has been restricted to a small fraction of Canadian consumers</a> in what is already a small market," she maintained in an op-ed in Canadian Business magazine. "Throttling aggregate demand slows the economy for everyone." Anne Golden, president and CEO of the Conference Board of Canada, echoes this sentiment. "Growing inequality distorts consumer patterns," she told The Huffington Post in a recent interview. "Most businesses, except maybe for Porsche [dealerships], rely on rising purchasing power of the many, not the few, to deliver growth and profits." (ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)