A new poll indicates that the security of Canada’s economic union is now Canadians' top priority, supplanting a crackdown on gun, gang, and drug-related crime. But depending on how old they are and where they live, the poll suggests not all Canadians see things the same way.

When asked by the polling firm Nanos what their top long-term priority was, people throughout the country were generally in agreement that strengthening Canada’s economic union was most important, followed by a crackdown on crime and improvement of food and product safety regulations.

There was also wide consensus that asserting Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic and rebuilding the Canadian Forces is less important (and becoming even less so).

But there are some wide regional variations in these numbers. While 46 per cent of Ontarians see the country’s economic union as a top priority, only 35 per cent of people in the Prairies (including Alberta) agreed. They were more likely (29 per cent) to see crime as a top priority, compared to only about 22 per cent of people in Quebec, who consider food and safety regulations a more important priority (27 per cent).

On the Arctic, Atlantic Canadians were far less likely to consider it the top priority than people in Quebec, a province that has exploited the North’s potential for decades and, with Jean Charest’s Plan Nord, is considering further economic development in the region.

But when asked to score the degree of importance of these priorities on a scale of 1 to 10, a disparity between Quebec and the rest of the country and between older and younger Canadians becomes clearer.

With few exceptions, Canadians outside the French-speaking province generally gave Canada’s economic union, a crackdown on crime, and the improvement of safety regulations the same degree of significance – roughly two-thirds consider these issues important priorities. Quebecers, however, gave the economic union, crime, Arctic sovereignty and particularly the rebuilding of the armed forces the lowest scores in the country.

And the older a Canadian is, the more likely he or she is to consider any of these issues an important priority. The average proportion of young Canadians who said these five issues were important priorities was 38 per cent, compared to the 63 per cent for Canada’s oldest citizens. Over 70 per cent of Canadians over the age of 60 considered the economic union, safety regulations, and crime to be very important priorities, while 50 per cent said Arctic sovereignty was very important and 43 per cent said the same about rebuilding the armed forces. That is in sharp contrast to the 20 to 22 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 39 who identified these last two issues as very important.

The divide between Quebec and the rest of Canada is nothing unusual. But it is somewhat surprising to see that older Canadians are more apt to identify various issues as important long-term priorities than younger Canadians, who have much more incentive to consider the country’s long-term problems. But perhaps the wrong questions were asked in this survey – a cross-section of the protesters in Montreal, for example, likely would have identified the improvement of education and the dismantling of inequality as Canada’s most pressing long-term challenges.

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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