OTTAWA — Does the Liberal government have a money tree hidden some place? That’s what some focus group participants wondered aloud in reaction to the last federal budget, according to research commissioned by Finance Canada.
Last April, as Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland delivered the first budget speech in two years in which she announced $101 billion in massive new spending measures, 32 Canadians sat watching with a dial in their hand, rating every new promise and expense.
They were part of a focus group assembled by polling firm Leger at the behest of Finance Canada as part of a $53,445 contract for public opinion research.
The goal of the research was to provide Freeland’s department with insight into people’s opinions on the budget and offer direction to the government.
And the opinions expressed by participants indeed went in every direction, although everyone generally ended up expressing a positive opinion of a spending blueprint designed to be liked.
“In the words of many participants, it would be difficult to be negative about this budget that included elements to ‘satisfy everyone in Canada’, was in continuity with the efforts to limit the negative impacts of the pandemic on Canadians, as well as a ‘recovery-oriented budget,’ ” Leger notes in the report obtained by the National Post.
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But the initial positive impression quickly gave way to cynicism and skepticism amongst many participants, with some describing it as an “electoral budget” and many concerned that certain measures would never be implemented or that the Liberals would not be able to deliver on their promises.
The focus groups were divided into four categories: parents of children aged 0 to 6 years old, seniors (over 65 years old), people who received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and Quebecers.
Among the four groups surveyed, seniors were the most critical of the budget (though it was still “well received”), expressing skepticism about how all the promises would be implemented and then how everything would be paid for.
“I just feel that the government must have a money tree some place; I don’t know how they’re going to be able to pluck it all off the tree to do what they say they’re gonna do,” one told Leger.
Among the worst-rated moments of Freeland’s speech for seniors: any references to the “sacrifices youth and young adults made as a result of the pandemic.”
“You could detect a generation gap when it comes to COVID impacts,” Leger concludes.
The parents surveyed gave high marks to a wide swath of the budget, including all promises of more money for early childhood education and care, increasing minimum wage, more assistance for family businesses and job creation, and any support to the younger generation of Canadians.
But many were concerned that it was an “election budget” and that the Liberals’ proposed luxury tax on boats (worth over $250,000) and cars (worth over $100,000) was neither inclusive nor bold enough.
Parents were also skeptical of the government’s promises to Indigenous people, with one noting that, “I know they do their best for Indigenous people, but until you can just give them drinking water, I feel like you’ve just failed.”
While parents were skeptical of the effectiveness of the proposed luxury tax, the Quebec focus group viewed it extremely positively.
In fact, Quebecers gave the budget speech the highest average rating, with top marks for promises to help low-wage workers and business during the pandemic, and for measures aimed at young Canadians and investments in various leading sectors such as biopharmaceutical.
“The government is casting a wide net and they want to please everyone,” one Quebec participant noted, according to Leger.
But Quebecers were much less happy about the Liberals’ timelines for certain environmental measures, such as 2050 to achieve carbon neutrality and the seven-year target to implement a net zero accelerator.
The final category of participants, Canadians who received CERB during the pandemic, unsurprisingly supported measures related to extending COVID-19 benefits, as well as child-care initiatives and aid to students.
“There have been a lot of great announcements, but now we have to see IF they will implement them,” reads one comment quoted in the report.
On the flip side, they were “generally skeptical” of the government’s ability to fulfil its promise of pushing for office towers to be repurposed into affordable housing. They also gave a below-average rating to passages of the budget speech that mentioned women and feminism.
“Talk is cheap. We’ve heard them talk a lot, and this budget was very positive, but something doesn’t sit right. Like it’s too good to be true,” one respondent said.
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