Unemployment, jobs replace health care as top issue for Canadians: Ipsos poll

Click to play video 'Poll reveals top issues for Canadians' Poll reveals top issues for Canadians
WATCH: An Ipsos Poll for Global News shows how worried Canadians are about jobs and unemployment, especially in Alberta and Atlantic Canada. Eric Sorensen reports – Feb 29, 2016

Amid the country’s bleak economic outlook, a new poll shows unemployment and jobs have replaced health care as the highest priority for Canadians.

When given a lengthy list of policy issues, 46 per cent of Canadians cited unemployment and jobs as their top concern, according to a new Ipsos poll provided exclusively to Global News.

(Infographic by Janet Cordahi)

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Sticking with the financial theme, 34 per cent of Canadians chose taxes, while another 31 per cent chose health care as the important issue. Poverty and social inequality was fourth with 29 per cent and 23 per cent of Canadians chose immigration.

The new Ipsos numbers show a change in Canadian attitudes from a December 2010 poll when 46 per cent of those surveyed picked health care as the lead issue. At the time, 36 per cent were concerned with jobs and unemployment, while 34 per cent had taxes at the top of their minds.

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Mike Colledge, president of Canadian public affairs at Ipsos, says the newest numbers reflect the “continued track of Canadian angst” around the economy.

“It’s not surprising that given their concerns about the economy, jobs and unemployment comes in at the top,” said Colledge. “When the economy tanks, people shift to the real pocketbook issues and devote less headspace to a ‘where are we going on social issues?’ like climate change or health care.”

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In January, Canada’s unemployment rate reached a two-year high as the economy shed another 5,700 jobs amid the ongoing slump in the price of oil and other resources. Employment in Alberta – which just saw its worst year for job losses since 1982— decreased by 10,000 last month, bringing the jobless rate in the province to 7.4 per cent, or the highest in 20 years.

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The regional breakdown of the latest polling numbers across the country suggests jobs and unemployment was the most pressing issue in almost every province.

Alberta, which has been hit hard by the sputtering economy, led the way with 76 per cent of respondents stating unemployment was the No. 1 issue. The Atlantic Provinces were second with 63 per cent, and Ontarians were next with 52 per cent worrying most about jobs.

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Saskatchewan and Manitoba residents were more evenly split with 41 per cent concerned with taxes, while 37 per cent were worried about jobs.

Quebec veered away from the rest of the country with 43 per cent of respondents choosing health care as their most important priority. Unemployment fell to the fifth spot among Quebecers with just 24 per cent selecting it as the most important issue.

Health of Canadians linked to employment

Danielle Martin, a family physician and vice-president at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, says while Canadians may think unemployment and health care are two separate issues they are inextricably linked.

“The immediacy of unemployment is understandable in terms of people’s concerns,” she said. “But employment is a major determinant of health.”

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Martin says employment can determine how likely a person is to get sick, how likely they are to have drug coverage and the state of their overall mental health.

She said that Quebec’s health care system has been in “real turmoil” for more than a decade and the poll results aren’t shocking.

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“Quebecers are still struggling to see meaningful improvement in the public health-care system,” she said. “Whereas issues like wait times and access to primary care, and these kind of things  have been getting addressed and we are seeing lots of improvements in other places in the country I’m not sure that’s been as true in Quebec.”

“Unfortunately in Quebec we have seen a lot of growth of private health care and I think that has affected people’s confidence in the public system,” she added.

Unemployment and precarious economic circumstances also affect a person’s health as the basic necessities, like shelter or healthy food, become out of reach, according to Martin.

“When people are in very low economic circumstances are also more likely to experience mental health problems,” she said. “Also are more likely to engage in higher risk health behaviours, like smoking and drinking. Ironically, we see that people who have a little bit more money in their pockets tend to smoke and drink less.”

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Exclusive Global News Ipsos polls are protected by copyright. The information and/or data may only be rebroadcast or republished with full and proper credit and attribution to “Global News Ipsos.” This poll was conducted between Jan. 22 and Feb. 2016, with a sample of 1,002 Canadians from Ipsos’ online panel and is accurate to within +/ – 3.5 percentage points 19 times out of 20.