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Canadians support the idea of public health insurance that covers prescription drugs and they like a Liberal proposal to increase parental leave for fathers, a new poll suggests – but they don’t like running deficits nor do they want new taxes to pay for the programs.

The results come from a Nanos Research poll that surveyed 1,000 Canadian adults by phone and online between March 7 and March 12, after the Liberals tabled their third federal budget on Feb. 27. The data is considered accurate plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

About three-quarters of those surveyed said they supported or somewhat supported a national public insurance plan to cover prescription drugs, in the same way as government plans cover other health-care services. Twenty-three per cent of respondents said they were opposed or somewhat opposed, and 4 per cent were unsure.

The February budget announced the creation of an advisory council, headed by former Ontario health minister Eric Hoskins, that would investigate whether public health-insurance plans could be expanded to cover prescription drugs. A national pharmacare plan had been previously proposed by the New Democratic Party.

The budget also proposed increased parental leave for new fathers, giving them an extra five weeks of employment insurance if both parents take enough time off. Sixty per cent of the Nanos respondents supported or somewhat supported more paid leave for new fathers, with 35 per cent expressing some degree of opposition. Women liked it more than men by six points.

When asked about paying for the new policies, respondents were not happy with their options. Sixty per cent said they were opposed or somewhat opposed to higher taxes to pay for new social policies, and 90 per cent said it was important or somewhat important for the government to have a plan to eliminate the federal deficit.

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Nik Nanos, chairman of Nanos Research.

“[Canadians] want to have their cake and eat it, too,” said Nik Nanos, chairman of Nanos Research.

“I think probably the reality is that, with numbers like this, it’s either going to be an incremental strategy where these are not programs that will be introduced boldly and quickly, but incrementally in order for people to be a little more acclimatized financially in terms of how they could be implemented.”

The Liberals pledged in the 2015 campaign to run modest deficits for a few years, and then return to balance in time for the 2019 election. Once in office, the Liberals abandoned that promise and planned to run deficits of more than $10-billion a year for the foreseeable future. Finance Minister Bill Morneau has said he plans to focus on lowering the debt-to-GDP ratio for now.

A recently disclosed study commissioned by the federal government suggested, through surveys and focus groups, that Canadians were generally not supportive of the government’s deficit and spending plan.

In a report released Thursday, the Parliamentary Budget Office suggested MPs should press the government on when it expects to eliminate the federal deficit.

“Parliamentarians may wish to seek additional clarity regarding the government’s fiscal anchors and its Budget 2016 commitment to set a timeline to balance the budget,” the watchdog’s report said.

The Liberals still have a lead in the polls, according to Nanos Research’s latest tracking data. Thirty-six per cent of respondents say they would vote Liberal, followed by 33 per cent for the Conservatives. The NDP were the choice of 19 per cent, the Greens 7 per cent and the Bloc Québécois were at 5 per cent.

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