Canadians see the recession as an international incident and not one created by the Conservative government, according to a new consumer study. As a result, Stephen Harper is assessed no blame for the recession but neither is he given credit by Canadians for getting us out of the economic swamp.
This cannot be good news for the Prime Minister and his government, which has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising stimulus spending. Every street corner and building site seems to have an Economic Action Plan sign plugging the federal program.
Perhaps this perception accounts for the fact the Conservatives are stalled in the public opinion polls, hovering around the low 30s for voter intention. The new study - the Consumerology Report by advertising firm Bensimon Byrne - shows the conflict Canadians are dealing with.
"They didn't blame the government when the recession started because they viewed it as something that started outside of our borders and had nothing to do with Canada," says David Herle of Gandalf Group, which conducted the study for the advertising firm.
"And for the same reason they don't really credit the government when they come out of it. It's an international incident not a domestic incident."
The Consumerology Report is conducted on a quarterly basis. The online study of 1,500 Canadians was conducted in French and English between Feb. 23 and March 1. It was just recently made public.
The results were surprising. Although it found consumer confidence is on the rise and Canadians are feeling bullish about the recession being over, it also found that people "are not going to spend on the basis of their optimism because they are not capable of it," Mr. Herle said.
"Most people have so much personal debt or such retirement income anxiety that even though they feel like the economy is better and that is normally a trigger for consumer spending, consumer spending is not going to come back the way people are hoping," he said.
As well, Mr. Herle found a "really interesting dichotomy" between how people feel about the economy over the very short term and the long term. His report shows that the culture "remains one of thrift and frugality, not spending and extravagance."
For the short term, Canadians believe the recession is over and that things will be better over the next 12 months. But they do not believe the next generation will be better off nor do they believe that the economy will be stronger than before.
"Underlying this short term burst of optimism that the recession is over is a deep-seated sense that we are trending toward a country that offers less opportunity and less prosperity," Mr. Herle said.
So how do politicians deal with this conflicted public?
It will be difficult, according to Mr. Herle. Canadians are smarter than politicians give them credit for, he says, and so far politicians are providing no answers. "I think Canadians would really respond very strongly to somebody who started to offer them what they consider to be a serious way forward."
And, Mr. Herle adds, there is no one on the political front who is doing that - talking about what are the jobs of the future, how retirement income will be handled and how Canada deals with globalization.
(File photo: Dan Riedlhuber/Reuters)Report Typo/Error