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Balance the budget or spend, spend, spend? Canadians divided amid pandemic election

Click to play video: 'Canada election: How do voters rank the federal leaders?' Canada election: How do voters rank the federal leaders?
An Ipsos poll released on Friday looks at how Canadians see the federal leaders. It found NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has the highest “favourability rate” at 45 per cent, followed by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau at 41 per cent, Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole at 28 per cent and Green Party Leader Annamie Paul at 15 per cent – Aug 27, 2021

There appears to be no clear consensus among Canadians on whether the most responsible path out of the social and economic shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic is to keep on spending, or start easing back.

New polling done exclusively for Global News by Ipsos found 30 per cent of respondents said the best thing to do is keep spending on government programs even if it means prolonged deficits. Another 33 per cent said the focus should be on balancing the budget, even if it means spending cuts or tax increases, while 37 per cent said lowering taxes would be the best path forward.

Responses broke across voting intentions, something Ipsos Public Affairs CEO Darrell Bricker said suggests many Canadians no longer feel the pressing economic threats of the earlier days of the pandemic — and are increasingly thinking about what the future will hold.

“Just as Canadians are divided on a lot of things in politics these days, they’re divided on what the focus of government initiative should be over the post-pandemic period,” Bricker said.

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“During the course of the pandemic, there was more of a single-mindedness about the need to spend government money in order to make sure that we were able to maintain people’s lives and their livelihoods.

“But now, as we’re coming through the pandemic and we’re starting to think about what’s on the other side, I think what we’re seeing is some of those economic values that we’ve developed over the space of a couple of generations starting to reassert themselves.”

READ MORE: Singh seen as most likeable leader in election as Trudeau’s popularity craters: poll

The federal government rolled out massive new spending programs unseen outside of wartime as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the country, forcing many industries to shut their doors for unknown stretches of time.

Many others faced the difficult choice between calling in sick to work and seeing their pay cheques trimmed, or leaving their jobs to provide care for children as schools shuttered or loved ones got ill.

Many others had no choice and could not call in sick to work without risking their jobs.

Immense new spending programs rolled out in force: the wage subsidy, the rent subsidy, sickness benefits, caregiving benefits, recovery benefits, new hiring benefits.

And while the programs have undoubtedly been lifelines for many, they have also raised questions about when they should end and whether new permanent programs being proposed like childcare are the best way forward when there is no plan in place to return to balanced budgets in the years to come.

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READ MORE: Do deficits matter? Here’s what they are, and what they mean for your bottom line

As things stand now, the federal deficit for the last fiscal year was pegged at $314 billion.

That’s up from the $21.8 billion deficit in the fiscal year that ended just as the pandemic reared its head.

But while neither of the major federal leaders are urging a near-term return to balanced budgets, the division in views on how important one is suggest the matter is not a settled discussion and will instead likely play out along the familiar political lines of years past.

People who intend to vote Conservative, for example, were more likely to prioritize balancing the budget and lowering taxes, with 46 per cent and 40 per cent of self-identifying respondents saying as much.

Only 14 per cent of those leaning Conservative said continued spending should be the priority, compared to 42 per cent of those who plan to vote Liberal and 46 per cent of those leaning to the NDP.

Just 27 per cent of Liberals and 23 per cent of NDP-leaning voters prioritized balancing the budget.

“The prime minister … he had a pretty clear view at the time with his ‘build back better’ scenario that he was presenting to Canadians that there was a huge consensus for that,” Bricker said, citing Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s oft-touted refrain.

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“What we’re seeing in these numbers is that there’s actually not a consensus on what building back better looks like.”

These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between August 20 and 23, on behalf of Global News. For this survey, a sample of n = 1,500 Canadians aged 18+ was interviewed online, via the Ipsos I-Say panel and non-panel sources. Respondents earn a nominal incentive for their participation. Quotas and weighting were employed to balance demographics to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. The precision of Ipsos polls which include non-probability sampling is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within ± 2.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadians 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. Ipsos abides by the disclosure standards established by the CRIC, found here: https://canadianresearchinsightscouncil.ca/standards/

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