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Health-care talks with provinces should top Harper’s list, poll finds Add to ...

Never mind getting tough on crime: Canadians want Stephen Harper and his majority government to figure out healthcare with the provinces, according to a new survey.

In addition, spending on defence could provide the flashpoint for the Conservatives as they get back to work. Healthcare, however, and the upcoming negotiations with the provinces as the 2014 deadline approaches topped worries about eliminating the deficit or job creation through tax cutting measures.

It is an issue, too, where the Tories are the most vulnerable.

“Getting tough on crime was a middling comparative policy priority for Canadians trailing healthcare and the money issues,” Nik Nanos about his latest poll, conducted in partnership with the Institute for Research on Public Policy.

The Nanos Research president looked at Canadians’ priorities as the Harper government gets back to work after the May 2 election. A new House of Commons Speaker will be elected Thursday followed by the Speech from the Throne Friday, which lays out the government’s legislative agenda. It is expected to include initiatives on crime, jobs and also democratic reform, including reforming the Senate. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty delivers his budget Monday.

The survey suggests 59.2 per cent of respondents believed working with the provinces on healthcare is an immediate priority compared to 44.1 per cent who said that eliminating the deficit was most pressing and 35.3 per cent who viewed crime-fighting as the top priority for the country.

Forty one per cent of respondents wanted the government’s focus to be jobs. Only 20.3 per cent, meanwhile, believed reforming the Senate was an issue to be dealt with immediately compared to 19 per cent who felt that strengthening the Canadian Forces was the key issue.

Of note in the Nanos survey is the view respondents took of the Harper government initiatives to reform the Senate. There has been much talk about everything from abolishing the Red Chamber to limiting senatorial terms since the election. And It became even more pronounced when the Prime Minister boldly announced the appointment of three defeated Tory candidates to the Senate just minutes after he named his cabinet last month.

“Pursuing Senate reform may be perceived by Canadians as a governing diversion from moving forward on the more important issues such as healthcare, the deficit, jobs and taxes,” Mr. Nanos said. “Likewise, the perception of further strengthening of Canada’s armed forces may not well reconcile with the appetite to eliminate the deficit except where there is a possible perception that spending is closely associated with job creation.”

Mr. Nanos considers defence spending a potential area of dispute because the New Democrats – the new Official Opposition – do not have defence spending as one of their priority agenda items.

In terms of healthcare, Mr. Nanos notes that “politically committed federal Conservative supporters” were most concerned about this issue and that of eliminating the deficit. “The only possible vulnerability relates to [the government’s] strategy on healthcare and the expected discussions on the Canada Health Accord,” the pollster said.

But he noted that Mr. Harper’s pledge to keep increases in healthcare spending at 6 per cent annually “effectively inoculated him from a short-term political vulnerability.”

“As we enter a period of multiple provincial elections where healthcare will be among the top provincial election issues, one can expect that Canadians may also examine Harper’s strategy on managing the healthcare issue beyond the election commitment.”

The survey of 1,205 Canadians was conducted between May 24 and May 29; it has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Justin Trudeau for Speaker?

The secret ballot election for Speaker of the House of Commons is such that if one of the 308 MPs does not remove his or her name from the list, she or he is on the ballot.

And so it is there are nine MPs running for the post on Thursday.

When the list came out Wednesday night, Montreal Liberal MP Justin Trudeau was on it – which was a surprise.

Others on that list – Saskatchewan Tory MP and perceived frontrunner Andrew Scheer, Calgary Tory Lee Richardson, B.C. New Democrat Denise Savoie, Manitoba Conservative Merv Tweed and Ontario Tories Barry Devolin, Ed Holder, Dean Allison and Bruce Stanton – have been campaigning publicly.

But not Mr. Trudeau. His office said Wednesday night that a letter had been sent Monday to the Clerk’s office and there was no reason why they shouldn’t have received it.

Who to blame? Canada Post or the Clerk’s office?

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