03/03/2015 03:47 EST | Updated 03/03/2015 03:59 EST

Canadians' Mood On Economy Worst Since Great Recession: Report

The collapse in oil prices has evidently shaken Canadians’ faith in the economy, and public attitudes are the most sour they have been since the Great Recession, a new survey says.

The survey carried out for ad agency Bensimon Byrne found 55 per cent of respondents said Canada’s economy is in decline, while 45 per cent said it’s growing. The last time a majority was negative on Canada’s economy in this survey was November, 2009, when the country was beginning to dig out of the recession sparked by the 2008 financial collapse.

A majority of respondents said they feel the country is in recession. Nine out of 10 survey respondents said their cost of living was rising faster than their income, and one-third of respondents said they had not saved anything for retirement.

“For the second year in a row, this survey has revealed that Canadians are feeling tapped out and view the economic road with pessimism,” Bensimon Byrne president Jack Bensimon said in a statement.

This was the third survey in a row in which respondents, including the wealthy, said they plan to cut back on spending.

“This growing perception that the recent sluggish economic growth has reverted to a recession means that Canadians consumers are making a conscious effort to minimize spending and cannot be counted on to fuel an economic recovery,” Bensimon said.

Canadians' top economic concerns, according to Bensimon Byrne (click for full size - story continues below)

canadians economic concerns

But Canadians may be more pessimistic about the economy than warranted. Far from being in recession, Canada recorded stronger-than-expected growth in the final quarter of 2014, StatsCan said Tuesday.

Canada’s rate of growth, 2.4 per cent at an annual pace, was weaker than the previous quarter but stronger than the U.S.’s 2.2-per-cent pace. Most economic forecasts had the U.S. outgrowing Canada at least in the short term.

Economists warned that the strong GDP numbers likely won't last, as the effects of the oil price collapse had not made their way through the economy by the end of last year.

"The true damage to the Canadian economy caused by crude’s collapse will only be understood in upcoming data releases," CIBC said in a client note.

Although many economists say Alberta is the one part of Canada currently at risk of recession, Albertans and other Prairie province residents were the most optimistic about the economy, the Bensimon Byrne survey found.

Bensimon said the economic pessimism “could become the central political issue grappled with in the next election.”

Sixty-seven per cent of respondents said Canada needs a new economic direction. That was the majority view across the country, except in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

The upshot of this negativity is that Canadians are serious about being prepared for bad times.

“Canadians are thinking about the future. Many are saving as much as possible and working harder than ever to pay down personal debt,” Bensimon Byrne concluded in its report.

The survey, carried out by The Gandalf Group, polled 1,500 Canadians from Feb. 3 to Feb. 16, 2015.

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