Conservatives are now more trusted than the Liberals when it comes to managing Ottawa’s finances, according to a new Nanos survey conducted for The Globe and Mail ahead of the coming federal budget.
Pollster Nik Nanos said the results, in which 28 per cent of respondents favoured Conservatives compared with 22 per cent for the Liberals, should be concerning for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.
“The Conservatives under Pierre Poilievre have an advantage in terms of trust, which is bad news for any federal government and not good for the Prime Minister,” said Mr. Nanos, chief data scientist and founder of the Nanos Research Group of Companies. “I think this should be worrisome for the Liberals.”
The 2023 budget represents a key moment for the Liberal government’s agenda, as it moves away from the emergency measures imposed during the pandemic. Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland will need to present the government’s plan for a difficult year ahead, as the Canadian economy is projected to stall or even slip into recession, while also laying out a vision for growth over the longer term.
Ms. Freeland has recently said the budget will focus on health care and the green economy, while also ensuring the overall plan is fiscally responsible.
The Nanos survey shows the Finance Minister’s framing is clearly in line with current public opinion.
“Her messaging so far is on point because those are the top three things that Canadians want to see as priorities in the budget,” he said. “However, this will be a much more difficult budget for Chrystia Freeland, because it’s not like a pandemic budget where stimulus is being pushed out the door. This is a budget where priorities have to be balanced, including reducing the deficit. And I think that’s where it’s going to be trickier.”
Ms. Freeland announced Friday that the budget will be tabled on March 28.
The Nanos survey’s results are a reversal from answers to a similar question two years ago on the preferred party to manage federal finances, when 28 per cent said the Liberals and 23 per cent said the Conservatives. A further 23 per cent in the latest results said they trust no one, a finding that is unchanged from two years ago.
The NDP was selected by 9 per cent, up two points from two years ago. Six per cent said there was no difference, and another 6 per cent said they were unsure.
Another question asked respondents to rank their priorities for the budget. Making the health care system stronger was the clear favourite, with 49 per cent ranking it first and 24 per cent ranking it second. Second on the list was reducing the deficit, which was ranked first by 19 per cent of respondents. Fighting climate change was third, followed by investing in infrastructure and creating jobs.
Mr. Trudeau announced a 10-year, $196-billion plan for health care transfers in February, but only $46.2-billion of that is new money above and beyond what would have occurred under the existing formula that increases health transfers in line with economic growth.
Mr. Nanos said the findings suggest Canadians want Ottawa to do more.
“For average Canadians, I think they probably thought that what’s recently been done is a deposit. It hasn’t created any major sense that the health care system has been fixed, or will be fixed. It was basically a stopgap measure,” he said. “If the Liberals think it’s one and done – one agreement and done – I think Canadians are interested in hearing more on what initiatives in the upcoming budget will help make our health care system stronger.”
The high ranking for health care also means Mr. Poilievre and the Conservatives will need to respond, he said.
“The Conservatives are going to have to prepare some sort of response or vision for health care also, because it won’t be enough for them just to tear the Liberals down on that.”
Canadians’ views on deficit spending have also shifted. In the middle of the pandemic two years ago, Canadians were more supportive of red ink to fund government programs. Now, a majority of Canadians – 56 per cent – say balancing the budget to ease their tax burden is more important to them as a general policy objective, as opposed to running a deficit to invest in programs. That is a 10-point increase compared with when the same question was asked two years ago.
Ms. Freeland has signalled that one of the main areas of new spending in the budget will be on incentives for green energy and emissions-reduction projects, partly so that Canada can compete with a wave of new incentives launched last year in the United States through the Inflation Reduction Act.
The Nanos prebudget survey suggests such measures will be well received by the public.
More than seven in 10 Canadians either support or somewhat support subsidies to businesses that invest in green energy projects in Canada. A similar majority also either support or somewhat support offering Canadians incentives to use alternative energy sources for home and travel.
The survey was conducted through a hybrid telephone and online random survey of 1,012 Canadian adults between Feb. 26 and March 1. The margin of error for this survey is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.