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Economic unity beats out crime as hot issue, poll finds

Canadian flag on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

Adrian Wyld/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

More Canadians see strengthening the country's economic unity as the top priority for government compared with a year ago, according to a poll ranking voter attitudes toward Conservative priorities.

The Nanos Survey poll asked 1,000 Canadians earlier this month which issue they considered the most important out of five listed on Prime Minister Stephen Harper's website as long-term priorities. The poll suggests Canadians have become less interested in cracking down on crime, asserting Arctic sovereignty and rebuilding the Canadian Forces.

Nearly 40 per cent of those surveyed this year said economic unity was their top priority, compared with close to 26 per cent last year, when the same poll question was asked soon after the Conservatives won their majority.

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In Ontario, 46 per cent of respondents picked economic unity as the most important priority, more than any other province. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said earlier this year that the province has "no one to blame but themselves" for heading into deficits for six more years.

The results indicate that the economy is still top of mind for voters in Ontario and elsewhere, said pollster Nik Nanos.

"Although the government has been focusing on issues related to defence spending and also crime, it's bread and butter issues related to jobs that Canadians really want to see the government focus on."

Nationally, the economic issue surpassed last year's most popular priority, which was cracking down on gun, gang and drug crime. That priority fell to 23 per cent this year from last year's 33 per cent.

In the past 12 months, the Conservatives have pushed their tough-on-crime agenda, which has included the passing of an omnibus crime bill.

As well, interest in "Rebuilding the Canadian Armed Forces" has decreased since last year, when nearly 7 per cent of Canadians said it was the most important. This year, less than 4 per cent picked it as their top choice.

Mr. Nanos said that's one of the long-term Conservative goals that may prove a tough sell for Canadians, especially with military involvement in Afghanistan coming to an end. "There's no narrative in terms of why the government needs to make significant investments in defence."

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Another tough sell, he said, will be Arctic sovereignty. Last year, nearly 8 per cent of respondents said its was their top priority; this year, just more than 4 per cent said that.

One priority that maintained its popularity with Canadians was improving food and product safety regulations. It was a top choice for about 22 per cent of those surveyed both this year and last.

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