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Finance Minister Jim Flaherty appears at an Ottawa news conference on Jan. 17, 2012. (Sean Kilpatrick/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty appears at an Ottawa news conference on Jan. 17, 2012. (Sean Kilpatrick/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Voters 'primed and ready' for deep Tory spending cuts, poll finds Add to ...

Canadians appear to be in a bloodthirsty mood as the Conservative government prepares its cost-cutting 2012 budget.

Fully 74 per cent of those surveyed in a want to see cuts that are deeper than the 5-per-cent reduction Ottawa has set as its minimum target for federal departments.

The 2012 budget will reveal the overall results of a government-wide exercise focused on the roughly $80-billion Ottawa spends each year on direct program spending.

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Yet recent signals from the Conservative government suggest deep cuts aren't coming. Rather the budget is expected to outline broad savings in line with previous pledges while providing limited details as to what will actually be cut.

The random online survey of 1,001 Canadians – weighted to match the latest census results – found broad support for spending reductions.

The survey asked whether respondents agreed with the federal government’s plans to generate at least $4-billion in ongoing annual savings by 2014. Roughly six in 10 of the respondents either agreed or somewhat agreed with the plan.

When asked for their preferred percentage for targeted cuts, the survey found just over 30 per cent called for cuts that are deeper than 20 per cent.

“I think what this shows is Canadians are primed and ready for government restraint,” said pollster Nik Nanos. However, he cautioned that “the devil is in the details” and support for cuts will likely wane when Canadians are confronted with what they will mean in practice.

The $80-billion envelope of spending that is targeted for cuts includes areas where restraint could be controversial. Wages and benefits for public servants fall into this category, as does agricultural support, capital expenses, international aid, peacekeeping, border infrastructure and public safety. The category also includes social spending on aboriginal education and health research, immigrant support and official languages programs.

The responses to the Nanos Research survey describe a far more aggressive mood than the government’s own polling has uncovered. The Privy Council Office recently released a December, 2011 report by Walker Consulting Group that found support for 5-per-cent cuts, but some concern about deeper measures.

“Some felt the deficit was manageable at this time, and that reducing the deficit too aggressively in the face of global economic hardship might have a dampening effect on the economy, and may yield widespread cuts to programs and services like health care (for which there was no appetite),” states the report [http://epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/200/301/pwgsc-tpsgc/por-ef/privy_council/2012/004-11/index.html]/note>, which was based on a mix of phone surveys and focus groups across the country.

As February comes to an end this week, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has yet to announce the date when he will release the 2012 budget. The budget covers the fiscal year that starts April 1.

There is no shortage of conflicting advice for the minister when it comes to how aggressively he should cut. Some Conservative MPs are pushing privately and publicly for deep cuts – including ending funding for the CBC.

Meanwhile, numerous economists have made public comments recently urging the minister not to cut more aggressively than planned, warning that deep cuts at the federal level piled on top of provincial spending restraint could harm Canada’s economic recovery.

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