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The Confederation Building reflects off the windows of a building in downtown Ottawa on April 7, 2020.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

A new survey shows that while Canadians would like to see increased federal support to the provinces and territories for health care and child care, they’re divided on whether that money should come attached to centralized national standards.

As the federal government is set to release its budget on Monday, the online survey, conducted by Environics Institute and five other partner organizations, found that Canadians want the federal government to provide more funding for health care, child care and care for the elderly. However, while one-third of respondents would like to see funding tied to national standards, about 40 per cent would prefer that money have no strings attached.

Though health care and child-care funding have always been major issues for Canadians, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the need to strengthen these programs across the country. The challenge for the federal government now is how to roll out increased funding and frameworks for these initiatives while not seeming to overstep into provincial jurisdiction.

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“It’s all about threading the needle,” said Andrew Parkin, executive director of the Environics Institute. “That’s what governing in Canada is about.”

The distinctions between Canadians who want more or less federal involvement aren’t clearly regional – the survey found that people across the country are generally split on the issue. The one exception is Quebec, where two-thirds of respondents prefer to have federal funding without any conditions. Political allegiance also accounts for some difference, as supporters of the Bloc Québécois and the Conservatives are more likely to prefer less federal involvement.

The survey also found that Canadians are generally comfortable with the division of powers between the federal, provincial and territorial governments, and that despite the challenges posed by legislating during the pandemic, Canadians don’t want that structure to change. Though differing health guidelines and restrictions in different parts of the country sometimes meant an unequal pandemic response, the survey indicated Canadians still don’t feel compelled to change the structure of how the federal and regional government work together.

“People describe our programs and approaches as a patchwork,” Mr. Parkin said. “And I don’t think that bothers Canadians as much as some people think it does.”

As long as there are programs in place, he adds, Canadians responded that they’re comfortable with the structure around how decisions are made.

This is not dissimilar to the federal government’s plan for carbon pricing, which the Supreme Court ruled was constitutional in March. Provinces were given the choice to adopt the federal government’s carbon-pricing plan, or come up with a plan of their own. Though this survey didn’t examine carbon pricing in particular, Mr. Parkin said that he wouldn’t expect that issue to deviate from the trend.

“Canadians are, in general, comfortable with the idea of having a strategy – as long as someone’s doing something,” he said.

The Liberal government has been talking about a national child-care program for months, and if there are provisions in the budget for such a plan, it may need to follow a similar structure as the carbon-pricing model. Quebec, for one, already has a successful daycare framework, and may want to opt out.

The survey of 5,814 adults was conducted between January and March, 2021, and the results were weighted by factors such as region and age to accurately represent the country. Since the survey was conducted primarily online, there was no margin of error. The annual study is conducted by six Canadian public policy organizations: Environics Institute for Survey Research, Canada West Foundation, Centre D’Analyse Politique – Constitution et Fédéralisme, Institute for Research on Public Policy, Brian Mulroney Institute of Government and Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy.

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