03/11/2014 05:13 EDT | Updated 03/11/2014 05:59 EDT

Canadians Doubtful Of Some Core Pro-Business Policies: Poll


Canada’s baby boomers and their children see almost eye-to-eye when it comes to the country’s economic direction, and both groups are worried that some pro-business policies of the past several decades have made it harder to make a decent living.

That’s according to a new survey from the left-leaning Broadbent Institute, which looked at the economic attitudes of Canada’s largest population group, the baby boomers, and their children, the millennials.

From tax breaks for corporations to the decline of union influence, pluralities of survey respondents expressed doubt about some core policies of recent Liberal and Conservative governments, such as tax breaks for corporations and the expansion of free trade.

Baby boomers and millennials alike expressed doubt that future generations can achieve the standard of living Canadians have enjoyed in recent generations, with concerns focused on the costs of housing and social services.

Sixty per cent of baby boomers expressed cynicism over the broad reduction in corporate tax rates over the past 15 years, saying companies ended up keeping the tax savings and didn’t invest the money back in Canada, while 12 per cent said the tax breaks created jobs.

Millennials were somewhat more receptive to the tax breaks, with only 48 per cent saying companies pocketed the difference, and 19 per cent saying the tax cuts led to job creation.

Canada has seen its federal corporate tax rate cut in half since 2000, and this year is forecast to be the first in Canadian history in which taxes paid by individuals will make up more than half of all government revenue.

Canadians see negatives in free trade deals, such as the one announced between Canada and South Korea this week. Seventy-seven per cent of millennials and 73 per cent of boomers say such deals lower salaries for Canadians. But respondents also agreed with positive statements about free trade deals, with majorities agreeing that the deals lead to new jobs and have made businesses more profitable.

The decline of unions is also seen as a negative by a majority of survey respondents. Fifty-nine per cent of millennials and 55 per cent of boomers said falling union membership rates have made it “a bit” or “much” harder to find work, compared to eight per cent of millennials and 11 per cent of boomers who say it has made it easier to find work.

But that’s not to say Canadians have become entirely anti-business in their attitudes on the economy. Large majorities of both boomers and millennials (68 per cent and 66 per cent, respectively) agreed that people would be better off if they provided for themselves under smaller government and lower taxes. Bare majorities (52 and 56 per cent) agreed with the view that the larger government gets, the harder it is for businesses to be profitable.

When it comes to personal fortunes, Canadians have grown cynical, and expectations for success in the workplace are being scaled down. Only 39 per cent of millennials expect to go from permanent job to permanent job, compared to 66 per cent of boomers who said they did so in their career.

Fifty-two per cent of millennials expect their career to be a mix of contract jobs and permanent jobs, compared to only 14 per cent of boomers who described their careers in this way.

On housing, expectations are also coming down. While 52 per cent of boomers said they are certain to own a home at retirement (many of them are already at the cusp of retirement age), only one-third of millennials said the same. While that may be a reflection of anxiety about personal finances, it may also be a reflection of record high house prices in most Canadian markets.

Rick Smith, executive director of the Broadbent Institute, which commissioned the poll carried out by Abacus Data, said the institute was surprised by how strongly Canadians felt about these issues.

The scale of the angst certainly took us by surprise,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “The strength of feeling here is really quite astonishing.”

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