Canadians frustrated with federation, but still support equalization payments to poorer provinces

Posted on June 4, 2019 in Governance Debates

Source: — Authors: – Politics
June 3, 2019.   Rachel Emmanuel, Ottawa

The majority of Canadians are in favour of equalization payments to poorer provinces despite a considerable decline of support for the federal program since 2001, a new survey suggests.

The survey from Environics Institute found large majorities outside central Canada feel their province or territory is not respected, receives less than its fair share of federal spending and has less influence on national decisions.

Despite these concerns, the survey found that three-quarters of Canadians support the equalization program, while 16 per cent are opposed. Opposition for the program was greatest in Alberta and Saskatchewan, where political leaders have complained that their oil money is going to help provinces such as Quebec, which opposed an east-west pipeline.

[ See chart: Support for Equalization, 2019 – ]

“Many Canadians may be dissatisfied with the way the federation is working but this does not mean that they are prepared to turn their backs on one another,” Environics said.

The report, which surveyed more than 5,000 Canadians, comes at a time when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s environmental policies are facing strong push-back from provincial conservative governments in New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

The survey also found that twice as many Canadians – 43 per cent – believe royalties on natural resources are part of the country’s wealth and should be used to benefit everyone, while 21 per cent said resources belonged solely to the province or territory in which they are found.

Support for the view that resource wealth belongs to the provinces was strongest in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The survey also found that despite frustration with how the country’s federation operates, Canadians remain supportive of the federation and are looking for collaboration from provincial and federal levels of government.

A majority of Canadians – 55 per cent – said they would prefer that their provincial leaders try to find a balance between its own economic interest and other parts of Canada, even if it means compromising. Only 31 per cent said they would prefer that a province or territory put its economic interests first.

Andrew Parkin, the executive director of the Environics Institute, said the finding is reflective of Canadians wanting federal and provincial leaders to work together to solve common problems.

“Canadians don’t like to have to choose sides,” he said.

The survey found that most Canadians are trusting of the federal government when it comes to immigration, but not so much in regard to economic growth and job creation. Trust of provincial and territorial governments is highest in the case of health care but lowest on combating climate change.

A large majority of 87 per cent are opposed to barriers on labour mobility and believe that Canadians should have the right to move to another province for a better job.

One surprising finding in the survey is that only 13 per cent of Canadians feel their province is wealthy compared with 1977 when the figure was at 54 per cent.

“The change in perception over the 40 years – in terms of the decline in the proportion feeling their province is wealthy – is evident in every part of the country,” Environics said. “In 1977, 74 per cent of Albertans, 71 per cent of British Columbians, and 69 per cent of Ontarians said that they thought of their provinces as wealthy; by comparison, the figures in 2019 are 20 per cent, 17 per cent and 15 per cent, respectively.”

Environics conducted the survey online in the provinces and by telephone in the territories among 5,732 adult Canadians between Dec. 14 and Jan. 16. The comparison survey in 2001 was conducted entirely by telephone, so “don’t know” responses, which are higher in online surveys, were removed. Environics said there is no measurable margin of error for this survey.

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