Covid is transforming how people view the role of government to support their citizens in times of economic turmoil. Will it change how we look at the role of government forever?
By: Kieran Leavitt — Edmonton Bureau
Canadians don’t want less government spending — they want more.
At least, that’s how Andrew Parkin, executive director at the Environics Institute, reads his organization’s latest survey results.
“I read in this survey more public concern about governments not doing enough than concerns about governments getting overextended,” Parkin said.
Even after six months of massive emergency spending in Ottawa, only four per cent of respondents to the survey listed the country’s debt or the deficit as “the most important issue facing Canada today.”
Unsurprisingly, the top response at 39 per cent was COVID-19.
Meanwhile, support for a guaranteed annual income — potentially a massive government undertaking — has skyrocketed, with 64 per cent voicing support for replacing current emergency assistance programs for people impacted by the pandemic with a basic income program.
This is up from 2013, when the Environics Institute asked a similar question and saw only 47 per cent support for a basic income.
“If you kind of stand back and sort of say, ‘What is this survey telling me?’ they’re saying, ‘I’m more worried than I used to be about whether people have enough money to make ends meet,’” Parkin said.
There’s also high levels of support for government action on social needs: 96 per cent of respondents said the government must ensure quality long-term care for seniors, 95 per cent said the government has to assist people living with disabilities, and 88 per cent said it’s the government’s responsibility to make sure daycare is available for children.
All three areas have been unique challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Environics Institute survey, done in partnership with a team at the University of Ottawa and the Century Initiative, was conducted over the phone with 2,000 Canadians from Sept. 8-23. It is considered accurate to within 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
The data comes just as the Liberal government is preparing to release its promised fall economic update which won’t include a specific anchor to tie down spending, even though the deficit has ballooned to an estimated $328.5 billion. The Conservatives and critics in the business community have panned the government’s lack of a plan to eventually reign in spending and tackle debt.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the economic update will include “fiscal responsibility,” but that “it would be premature to be locking things down.”
In 20 years of collecting survey data, Parkin says debt and deficit have never made the number one slot for most pressing issue facing the country. Just before the pandemic, the environment sat in the number one spot for most the important issue facing Canada, and prior to that, it was the economy more generally.