Poll: Economic concerns on the rise

Canadians are going into the federal election campaign generally satisfied with the way things are in the country, but with an array of attitudes that could influence how they vote, according to a new poll commissioned by CBC News.

But a variety of issues on Canadians' minds on eve of election call

Canadians are going into the federal election campaign generally satisfied with the way things are in the country, but with an array of attitudes that could influence how they vote, according to a new poll commissioned by CBC News.

The survey, conducted by the Environics polling firm between Aug. 29 and Sept. 2, points to a Conservative victory on Oct. 14 and contains more good news for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his party. For example, the poll found a majority of Canadians — 55 per cent — believe the Conservatives will win the election and form a government.

Do you agree or disagree with the government's approach to climate change?






Don't know/No answer


Do you agree or disagree with the Liberal approach to climate change?






Don't know/No answer


By contrast, it contained little cause for optimism for Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion, even on his key issue of climate change. Sixty-eight per cent of respondents approved of the government's approach on the environment, while just 42 per cent said the same of Dion's Green Shift plan.

The poll also found no single issue is either vexing or inspiring Canadians at the moment.

However, the poll indicates that concern about the country's economy is starting to gather pace as a more pressing issue. Health care, climate change and the Afghan mission are other issues on Canadians' minds.

To Donna Dasko, vice-president of public affairs at Environics, that lack of a national consensus could make for an interesting election campaign.

"That shows us that everyone has their own issue, that the framing issue for this election is really up for grabs," Dasko told in an interview. "It makes it really challenging for the parties to run with something and call it their own."

Economic concerns rising

On the whole, respondents said they are satisfied with the way things are going in the country. Just 36 per cent express dissatisfaction with the country's direction and 60 per cent are content.

Overall, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in this country today?






Don't know/No answer


That's a small decline from the last such CBC/Environics survey in November 2006. But it's big jump from a poll taken during the Paul Martin Liberal government in May 2005 when just 43 per cent of us were satisfied.

But looking into Canadians' attitudes in more detail, certain concerns do emerge.

Overall, slightly more than half of the country, 52 per cent, isn't particularly worried about the Canadian economy, whatever the latest news about the stock market, oil prices and unemployment. But break those worries down by region, or socio-economic status, and you get a much more explicit picture of the nation's attitudes about the economy.

Dasko said people in Ontario and Atlantic Canada are much more pessimistic about the economy than Albertans or westerners in general.

Considering the overall economic situation in Canada, would you say that you are:


Very worried




Not too worried, or


Not at all worried


Don't know/No answer


"A few short months ago, Ontarians were at or around the national average in their concerns about the economy," she said, "but now they are the most worried about the issue."

Similarly, people with lower incomes or levels of education worry more about the spate of bad economic news in Ontario and Eastern Canada, she said.

The poll found 48 per cent of respondents overall were worried or very worried about the economy, up from 32 per cent in October 2007.

The economy is just emerging as an issue of concern, Dasko said, and it looks set to continue to be on the radar for Canadians, perhaps even spreading beyond Eastern Canada if U.S. financial conditions continue to worsen substantially.

Other issues in play

What do you think is the most important issue facing the country that the federal government should deal with?


Health care/health care system


Environment/pollution/global warming




Afghanistan/military mission


Gas/fuel prices/cost of energy




Taxes/tax cuts




Crime/law and order




Social issues/child care/seniors/pensions


Immigration/racial issues/religious issues


Poor government/poor leadership


All others


Don't know/No answer


As it has for years, health care is another issue topping the list and is the main concern of 19 per cent of the Canadians surveyed. But the overall trend of concern about health care has declined in recent years and continues to do so as other issues arise.

Environmental woes like pollution and climate change came next at 13 per cent, followed closely by the economy in general with 12 per cent.

The military mission in Afghanistan is key for five per cent of us, as are fuel prices. Poverty, taxes, unemployment, crime, education and social issues like pensions and child care were also mentioned.

When asked to speculate how issues might affect their vote in a federal election, respondents had mixed views.

Again, health care tops the list, with 10 per cent of respondents saying it would dictate their electoral choice, but several issues come close behind at nine per cent, including leadership, environmental challenges and the economy.

Those are crucial issues to the two main party leaders, with the Tories projecting Harper's leadership as a key part of their campaign and Dion's Liberals promising that their Green Shift carbon tax will have a big, positive impact on climate change.

"Both are in play," Dasko said.

Political promise-keeping and honesty; taxes; moral and family values; unemployment and the Afghanistan mission were also among the potentially decisive issues mentioned.

Tories predicted to win

Which political party do you think will win the election and form a government?


The Conservative Party/Harper


The Liberal Party/Dion


The New Democratic Party/Layton


The Bloc Québécois/Duceppe


The Green Party/May




Don't know/No answer


(* Less than one percent)

Aside from the findings released Thursday  — that Canadians consider Harper the best leader on offer and are as likely as not to vote Conservative — there's more good news in the poll for the Tories.

Asked who they thought would win a federal election, as opposed to whom they wanted as their next government, 55 per cent of respondents chose Harper's party, with the Liberals a distant second at 24 per cent.

Perhaps even more encouraging for Harper, 57 per cent of respondents think a majority Conservative government would not behave any differently from the minority he led. Just 37 per cent thought a future Tory majority would march to a different drummer.

That makes it more difficult for the Liberals and others to use scare tactics about a harsh, right-wing government, should the Conservatives dominate the next Parliament, said Dasko.

"The idea that these are scary people with scary policies, that's not salient with voters," she said.

On climate change, 68 per cent of us think Harper's government is taking the right approach. Only 26 per cent of poll respondents disagreed with the notion that setting greenhouse gas emissions limits and targets was the way to go. 

As for what's likely to be the key plank in the Dion Liberals' platform — the Green Shift plan of income tax cuts for Canadians facing higher energy and goods prices as a result of new taxes on industries that produce high carbon emissions — 51 per cent of respondents didn't like it, while 42 per cent agreed it was the best way to tackle climate change.

Canadians split on whether election justified

Do you think Prime Minister Harper is justified in calling an election now?


Justified to call election


Continue to govern


Don't know/No answer


As for any talk across the country about this being an election that Canadians don't want or need, the poll finds that we have mixed feelings on this, too.

Given the margin of error, the finding that 44 per cent of us think a federal vote is justified and 48 per cent disagree is pretty close to a dead heat. In short, Dasko said, the election is not an election issue.

"I think if people felt really strongly that we want this election, or we don't want this election, we'd see it in the polls," she said. "We're not seeing it. What we're seeing is people saying, well yes, let's vote. Or maybe, or I don't think so. It's no more definite than that."

The poll surveyed 2,505 Canadians across the country between Aug. 29 and Sept. 2. On a national level, it is considered accurate to within plus or minus two percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Here the regional margins of error, each to plus or minus the percentage indicated.

Canada: 2.0 Atlantic Canada: 6.2 Quebec: 3.1 Ontario: 3.9 Manitoba/Saskatchewan: 7.9 Alberta: 6.8 British Columbia: 6.0