A display screen in Toronto's financial district shows a significant rise in the TSX index on Tuesday. ((Chris Young/Canadian Press))

Amid pervasive doom and gloom about the global economic crisis, Canadians are among the most optimistic worldwide when it comes to their financial futures, according to a report released Wednesday.

Not unlike people elsewhere, Canadians have deep concerns about the economy and lowered consumer confidence, but they tend to have a rosier view of the future, Tony Coulson, vice-president of Environics Research Group in Ottawa, told the CBC in an interview.

"It's sort of a glass half-full mentality," Coulson said. "It says, 'This is a recession in the stock market rather than on the streets for Canadians,' so they're not feeling the pinch as much and are looking forward to better times ahead."

By comparison, Ireland appears to have a glass half-empty perspective, the Environics study found.

"Ireland is definitely the country where there's the most worry about the economy and the least optimism about the timing of the recovery," Coulson said.

China was the most optimistic overall.

Government stimulus plans fuel optimism

Economic stimulus plans recently launched by governments on both sides of the border may partially account for Canadian optimism, according to Coulson.

"We live in close proximity to the U.S. and we saw a major effort by the U.S. administration to pump money into the system to try to alleviate the problem, and we saw our own government follow suit," he said.

Half of Canadians believe their economy is already in recession, but 71% don't expect it to last more than two years.

"We haven't had a complete and utter collapse [of our financial system] the way the U.S. did, so maybe we're feeling fortunate in that respect."

The level of pessimism among Canadians about the economy is still nearly comparable to the historical lows during the recession of the early 1990s — even though February's 7.7 per cent unemployment rate is much lower than in 1993, when it hit 11.4 per cent, said Donna Dasko, senior vice-president of  Environics Research.

The phenomenon is largely due to Canadians being caught up in a global dynamic, she said. In other words, bad news travels fast.

"We're hearing stories daily about the collapse of the world economy and the terrible situation south of the border, so Canadians have naturally responded with alarm. But we're impacted more by what we hear, not by our actual situation," Dasko said.

"At the same time, we're not as nearly as pessimistic as other countries. We're still in a better frame of mind."

16,000 people in 19 countries polled

The Environics report polled almost 16,000 people in 19 countries around the world — including the United States, Japan and Russia — about the causes of the current economic crisis and respondents' perceptions of the future.

In Canada, the survey polled 1,006 people aged 18 or older by phone between Feb. 5 and 12. The margin of error for the Canadian results was plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, while for the international findings it was plus or minus 4.4 points, because of the smaller relative sample sizes.

Among the report's other key findings:

  • Seven in 10 Canadians believe the economy is getting weaker, which is one of the highest levels since Environics started tracking this question in 1986. In Greece, 78 per cent think the economy is worsening.
  • Half of Canadians believe their economy is already in recession, while 91 per cent of Japanese think theirs is.
  • Fifty-six per cent of Canadians say the current economic climate is the worst in their lifetimes, which puts Canada in the middle of the global pack on the issue. By comparison, nearly 89 per cent of Americans feel this way, while only 29 per cent in China do.
  • Twenty-nine per cent of Canadians believe the U.S. and former president George W. Bush are to blame for the economic situation, while 45 per cent of Japanese think so and only 17 per cent of Americans do. Globally, national governments were blamed most often for the crisis.
  • After the U.S./Bush, 14 per cent of Canadians feel their federal government is to blame for the crisis, followed by the financial industry (six per cent) and corporate greed (six per cent).
  • Consumer confidence has weakened globally, with negative sentiment ranging from 20 per cent in China and Germany to 83 per cent in South Korea. Half of Canadians say this is a bad time to buy, putting Canada in the middle of the pack.
  • Three in 10 Canadians are worried about losing their jobs, a level that is well below other countries. In Russia, for example, 71 per cent are very concerned or somewhat concerned about job loss.
  • Canadians are optimistic about the future. Seventy-one per cent don't expect the recession to last more than two years, compared with Ireland, where only 18 per cent feel this way.
  • Forty per cent of Canadians think their personal financial prospects will improve in the next six months, which is second only to the U.S. at 59 per cent.