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Budget should target 'fat-cat Ottawa,' poll suggests

1. Economic advice. Canadians want the government to cut services and spending to reduce the deficit, according to a new poll. Are you listening Jim Flaherty?

The Finance Minister and Prime Minister Stephen Harper vow they can wrestle down the $56-billion deficit without having to raise taxes or to cut spending. Many economic experts believe this to be impossible.

EKOS Research asked Canadians to tell them how they would do it. What is their preferred approach to deficit reduction? Forty-six per cent of respondents said they would cut services and spending.

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And 56 per cent of those who identified themselves as Conservatives supported cuts, compared to 38 per cent who say they are Liberals, 36 per cent NDP, 42 per cent Green and a huge 56 per cent of the Bloc Quebecois.

Only 14 per cent said they would raise taxes; 10 per cent of respondents said continue to run deficits and 30 per cent said they didn't know.

The poll of 3,006 Canadians was conducted between Feb. 3 and 9.

Mr. Flaherty is to deliver his budget on March 4, which many observers are hoping will lay out the roadmap to deficit reduction.

EKOS pollster Frank Graves believes the Conservatives will "accent the need for severe cuts to the 'bloated bureaucracy'." In other words go after so-called "fat-cat Ottawa."

"This will be effective in the short term," he says. He also says his research team has done a lot of "hard testing" on where to cut - and it's the Defence Department.

"My guess is that the major resources being devoted to Defence will be eyed by many Canadians as a possible target given he Afghan exit plan," he says. "This will clash somewhat with the rising affection for the 'troops'."

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Mr. Graves says that he has also done polling which has shown "receptivity to re-introducing some of the cut GST and dedicating it to the deficit." That would be a tax hike.

Meanwhile, Canadians are feeling pretty good about themselves.

Dimitri Pantaxopoulos, of Praxicus, a national polling firm that has done research for the Conservatives, recently looked at Canadians' perceptions of their wealth.

He found that 75 per cent of Canadians felt they were the same or better off than they were at the same time last year. Last year, in the midst of the recession, only 46 per cent of Canadians felt that way.

The poll of 1,000 Canadians was conducted between Jan. 18 and 22.

However, he also found that although 72 per cent of respondents believe they are at least as well off as their parents at the same stage in life, only 46 per cent of the respondents said "they expect the next generation will be at least as well off as they are."

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2. Olympic impressions. Michael Ignatieff is in Vancouver. He put this note up on Facebook and Twitter yesterday: "Arrived in Vancouver. This place is transformed. Can't wait for the gold rush to begin.

Mr. Ignatieff also can't wait to see the curling; his wife, Zsuzsanna Zsohar, wants to see the ice dancing, especially the Hungarian ice dancers.

Ms. Zsohar's mother, who lives in Hungary, suggested to her daughter that she sidle up to the skating pair when the television cameras were on them so she could see her on Hungarian television.

Tonight the couple is attending the opening ceremonies of the Winter Games. Last night, they attended the opening of the Canada Olympic House, which is in the former appliance section on the sixth floor of the Hudson Bay store in downtown Vancouver.

Glass of red wine in hand, Mr. Ignatieff stayed long enough to see and be seen and to hear the Canadian Tenors do their rendition of O Canada.

He made no speeches and there were no other politicians in sight but the place was jammed with athletes - former Olympic silver medalist Elizabeth Manley, hockey great Trevor Linden and Beijing Olympic flag bearer Adam Van Koeverden.

The couple is here for several more days, and they also want to watch the short track speed skating.

While Mr. Ignatieff faces many dilemmas as a political leader, his biggest right now would be who to cheer for if the men's gold medal hockey game is between Canada and Russia, given his Russian ancestry.

But he doesn't usually deal in hypothetical situations, so Ms. Zsohar says he'll be cheering for Canada.

(Editorial cartoon by Brian Gable/The Globe and Mail)

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