84% of Albertans demand government do more to ease inflation's bite: new poll
More than half of Albertans say their household financial situation is worse as recession looms
A new poll suggests a significant majority of Albertans want government to provide more relief for the rising cost of living, which has consistently ranked as one of the top sources of stress in their lives.
More than half of Albertans say their household financial situation has worsened this year, likely thanks to inflation levels not seen for decades, according to the survey of 1,200 people by Janet Brown Opinion Research.
The new poll comes as the federal government introduces targeted measures to help low-income workers and students, while the Bank of Canada hikes interest rates to push Canadians to spend and borrow less money. However, that adds pressure on homeowner's mortgage costs.
In Alberta, the United Conservative Party under former premier Jason Kenney offered a few remedies to soften the blow over the past year, like a $50 monthly electricity bill credit and temporarily pausing collection of the provincial fuel tax.
WATCH | Just how bad is inflation, historically?
His successor, Danielle Smith, has signalled her government might bring that tax pause back, and other "one-time" help could also be in the cards.
But experts agree: inflation is a global problem, and the hands of federal and provincial governments are somewhat tied here. Though inflation may have peaked this summer, its lingering effects — the price of groceries, how much it costs to heat homes and how much it costs to fuel up — will remain for months to come.
Top of mind
The poll, conducted from Oct. 12 to 30, asked Albertans what they thought the most important issues facing Albertans were. Inflation and health care were the top two issues.
"The other thing we did in the poll was we presented a whole bunch of statements to people about things they think government should do," said Janet Brown, who conducted the research for CBC News.
"And every single statement we tested, the one with the strongest agreement was that government should be doing more to protect consumers from inflation and the rising cost of living."
After reaching what appears to have been a peak in June of 8.1 per cent (the highest level since 1983), Canada's annual inflation rate has been declining, dipping to 6.9 per cent in September. The soaring cost of food and housing has made things more difficult for Canadian families and has led to more Canadians turning to food banks than ever before.
Students and young people are the most likely demographic groups to want the government to do more about inflation. Ninety-six per cent of respondents aged 18 to 24 want this intervention to blunt the sharpest cost increases in their lives.
Anand Unnithan, 21, studies at the University of Calgary and works part-time at a fast food restaurant. He lives with his parents, who rely on a strict monthly budget. Without using coupons or taking advantage of deals at grocery stores, he doubts the costs of living are sustainable.
"We always talk about how prices go up. And we try not to stress about it too much," Unnithan said. "We understand what's going around the world with inflation, and other economic struggles, or even political issues around the world.
"But the government should look at helping the citizens of Canada."
Inflation does have a material impact on bottom lines. When inflation was at its peak, it lowered the average family's spending power by around $400 a month for the average family, according to calculations by University of Calgary professor of economics Trevor Tombe in June.
A struggle to pay
The survey also asked respondents about their economic confidence. It asked them to identify their feelings about their own household finances.
Fifty-one per cent of those surveyed said their personal situation is worse than it was a year ago. People are more confident about the future, but still one-third of Albertans expect the struggles to continue in the coming year.
Nearly half of Albertans reported finding it at least somewhat difficult to meet their monthly expenses. Ten per cent said it had become very difficult.
That's a big increase from the last time Brown asked the same question 18 months ago.
"Imagine you're standing in the supermarket, and there's five people in front of you. According to these statistics, two of them are thinking about putting something back," she said.
Seniors, more likely to be on fixed incomes, are especially feeling the bite. Only three per cent of them say their financial picture has improved in a year, making them nearly five times less likely than typical Albertans to say so. They're also least likely to expect their situation to improve next year.
However, seniors may be more resilient. They're the most likely age group to say they've found it easy to meet their monthly expenses — 65 per cent, nearly 10 points higher than all Albertans.
The less money Albertans make, the more likely they are to feel the financial squeeze. While 61 per cent of respondents making less than $60,000 find it difficult to meet expenses, a mere 28 per cent of people earning more than $120,000 do.
Optimism about the economy is by far the lowest in Edmonton, the region least involved in the booming oil and gas sector. Only 20 per cent of the capital's residents say they think the economy is improving, compared to 37 per cent of Calgarians and 30 per cent of people outside the two major cities.
While 42 per cent of women feel the economy is getting worse, only 28 per cent of men share that sentiment.
What can be done?
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland has lately warned Canadians a recession is coming, as interest rates soar to combat inflation.
On Thursday, she announced $30.6 billion in new spending over the next six years. Some of that money will eliminate interest on federal student and apprenticeship loans, and advance payments of the Canada Workers Benefit means recipients won't have to wait until tax time to get it.
In Alberta, the rising cost of living was overlooked during the race to succeed former premier Jason Kenney, as frontrunner Danielle Smith's proposed Alberta Sovereignty Act sucked much of the air out of debate rooms. As premier, Smith has yet to take cues from her predecessor on tax pauses or utility credits, nor from her federal Conservative counterpart Pierre Poilievre, who has made the rising cost of living a central theme in his stump speeches.
That said, much of what has driven inflation is tied to global factors out of the control of federal and provincial leaders, like doubling oil prices, global supply chain challenges and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It's unclear when the ripple effects of those world-altering phenomena will subside.
Alberta has found itself in a unique situation given higher energy prices. High oil royalties made it easier for the government to cut the tax on gasoline temporarily. The government is also sitting on a massive surplus, which gives it more space to manoeuvre on any further relief programs.
The rest of Canada, however, may find running a deficit to fund relief programs a more challenging proposition, said, Charles St-Arnaud, chief economist for Alberta Central, the central banking facility for the province's credit unions.
"At the end of the day, someone is paying for it," he said.
With files from Jason Markusoff