Liberals see majority support but face skepticism over spending ahead of budget: poll

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WATCH: In an Ipsos poll done exclusively for Global News ahead of the upcoming federal budget, a majority of Canadians, or 82 per cent, said they want to see a reasonable plan for a timely return to balanced budgets – Apr 12, 2021

The Liberal government is approaching the release of this year’s federal budget in a strong position to form a majority government in the next election, a new Ipsos poll suggests.

Yet the Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News suggests the budget itself could potentially impact that support, with eight in 10 Canadians saying the Liberals should aim for balancing the books if they want to earn their vote.

Despite that, 66 per cent of Canadians also said they support running up whatever size deficit is necessary to get Canada through the pandemic — up nine points since Ipsos asked the same question in September.

Read more: COVID-19 opened ‘window of political opportunity’ to implement national childcare: Freeland

Ipsos CEO Darrell Bricker says the numbers make it clear that the Liberals need to walk a fine line as they present their fiscal outlook for the year and beyond.

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“Canadians are a little more cautious about (spending and investing) than the government is right now,” he said.

“Even though the political support is there pretty much for whatever the government wants to do, particularly in the short term … celebrating spending is not really where Canadians are right now.”

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Budget priorities

The government’s first budget in over two years is set to be unveiled on April 19, with Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland promising it will include major spending to jumpstart Canada’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Estimates from Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux peg the likely deficit at $382 billion. Giroux has cautioned that figure could soar to $400 billion in response to changing levels of public health restrictions and the resulting effects on jobs and businesses.

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Freeland said in November that the federal deficit likely won’t return to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2026, thanks to plans for roughly $100 billion in recovery stimulus over the next three fiscal years.

The finance minister has hinted that the budget may include plans for a national childcare program that could help women get back into the workforce after facing disproportionate setbacks to their careers during the pandemic.

Read more: Budget 2021 will come on April 19 as Canada races against variant spread: Freeland

Yet when asked about their top priorities for the budget, Canadians polled by Ipsos were less enthusiastic about specific programs that appear unrelated to COVID-19 financial support, with universal childcare and other initiatives each earning less than 10 per cent support.

Instead, the poll suggests Canadians are most concerned about how they and others will be taxed in order to pay for new spending.

Forty-three per cent of those surveyed said taxes should be reduced for middle-to-low-income Canadians. Even fewer people, 38 per cent, said taxes should be increased for the wealthy — a number Bricker found surprising.

“This is one of the easiest points to score in any kind of political debate,” he said, “but it doesn’t seem to be overwhelmingly easy. There’s still some reluctance.”

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Bricker says it’s possible Canadians are wary of changes to the tax code in general, or of being lumped in with a higher tax bracket depending on their income. More Conservative provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan also dragged the national number down.

“But still, you sit back and you say … ‘at some point, we’re going to have to find some way of generating revenue to be able to support all the things the government wants to do,'” he said. “Normally, what you would see is that taxing the wealthy is a slam dunk.”

Beyond taxation, nearly a quarter of Canadians polled said they want the budget to increase spending on poverty reduction programs. However, the top five wish list items also include reducing both the deficit and overall government spending.

Overall, the poll suggests Canadians continue to be focused on short-term recovery and economic survival, instead of longer-term goals that have been political hallmarks of the past, like green infrastructure and childcare.

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Read more: Extended COVID-19 income support to cost feds an extra $5B: budget watchdog

That could spell trouble for the Liberals if they present a budget that ignores those concerns, Bricker says.

“If you’ve got a government coming forward and saying, ‘Look, we’ve got this great idea about building back better … the potential for that to come off as not getting how desperate people are feeling right now about the short-term consequences, that’s a potential vulnerability,'” he said.

Liberals could form majority

For now, the Liberals are seeing their support increase heading into Budget Day.

The poll found the Liberals would receive 40 per cent of the vote if an election were held tomorrow, up five points since last month, while the Conservatives would earn 30 per cent of the vote, up two points.

The NDP and Greens are seeing their support dip, according to the poll, earning 13 per cent and eight per cent of the vote respectively. The Bloc Quebecois would see 35 per cent support in Quebec, which translates to nine per cent of the vote nationally.

The Liberals are seeing leads over the Conservatives across all age groups — including a 15-point lead among voters aged 55 and over, a key Tory voting bloc that Bricker says is being eaten away at.

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“Older people tend to vote more regularly, they’re more reliable voters, and Conservatives saw them as their core vote,” he said.

“The Conservatives still have regional strength in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, but in terms of demographic strength across the board in Canada, they’re struggling.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is also seeing renewed support. His approval rating hit 51 per cent in this latest poll, compared to 39 per cent in July 2019.

The poll also found 44 per cent of Canadians think Trudeau’s Liberals have done a good job and deserve re-election, up from 33 per cent in the 2019 poll.

As for who would make the best prime minister, Trudeau also came out ahead with 42 per cent support, while Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole earned 25 per cent support and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh won 17 per cent.

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“Opposition parties seem not to be on the minds of Canadians at the moment,” Bricker said. “They really are focused on the government.”

—With files from Global’s Amanda Connolly

These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between April 7-9, 2021, on behalf of Global News. For this survey, a sample of 1,001 Canadians aged 18+ was interviewed online. Quotas and weighting were employed to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the Canadian population according to census parameters. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within ± 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadians aged 18+ been polled. The credibility interval will be wider among subsets of the population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.

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