Most Canadians are generally comfortable with the massive amounts of federal borrowing for pandemic response measures, according to a new Nanos Research poll that finds fewer than a third of respondents are calling for fiscal restraint.
The polling for The Globe and Mail also identified broad public support for additional spending on child care and pharmacare.
The emergency response to the pandemic is expected to generate a one-year deficit well in excess of $300-billion and will push the size of the federal debt beyond the $1-trillion mark. Renewed shutdowns in Quebec and Ontario because of a second wave of the novel coronavirus will add more costs to federal finances in terms of supports for businesses and higher employment insurance claims.
On the issue of federal borrowing, the survey asked respondents to choose from three options. More than one-third (36 per cent) said the federal government should borrow what it needs to fight the pandemic and borrow more to invest in the social and economic priorities of Canadians beyond the requirements of the pandemic. Less than one-third (30 per cent) said the federal government should show restraint given the size of the deficit and the demands of the pandemic. Nearly the same percentage (29 per cent) said the government should only borrow what it needs to fight the pandemic. A further 6 per cent said they were unsure.
The results suggest the government faces a public opinion challenge as it weighs how to eventually phase out pandemic relief measures, while also moving to implement Throne Speech promises that more spending on new measures such as child care and pharmacare can be accomplished as part of a fiscally responsible plan.
Pollster Nik Nanos said the results suggest that while most Canadians are not overly concerned with the deficit, there is not a consensus on the need for additional spending beyond pandemic-related measures.
“The deficit in the past has been more of a binary discussion between people that like and dislike deficits. I think now we’re in a world where there are so many Canadians receiving direct stimulus from the federal government that opinion is just becoming more fragmented," he said. "So I think if there’s any prediction, the Minister of Finance will not make anyone happy regardless of what path she chooses, whether it be to borrow more to invest in social and economic priorities or to show restraint.”
Nanos Research asked respondents for their views on national pharmacare and increased spending on subsidized child care, which were both mentioned in the government’s Throne Speech in September as policy priorities.
More than eight in 10 respondents said a national pharmacare program is a good (56 per cent) or somewhat good (27 per cent) idea. Eight per cent said it is a poor idea and 6 per cent said it is a somewhat poor idea. Six per cent were unsure.
The survey found seven in 10 Canadians support increased child-care funding, with 41 per cent saying it is a good idea and 29 per cent saying it is a somewhat good idea. Thirteen per cent of respondents said it was poor idea and 12 per cent said it was a somewhat poor idea. Six per cent were unsure.
Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux issued a report last month that said federal spending is sustainable over the longer term provided the temporary spending measures related to the pandemic are phased out and not made permanent. The report noted that because of current low interest rates, the government’s debt servicing costs are at historically low levels as a percentage of GDP even though the size of the federal debt is increasing sharply.
The hybrid telephone and online random survey of 1,003 Canadians was conducted between Sept. 30 and Oct. 4 as part of an omnibus survey. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
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