Harper’s central policies resonating less with Canadians: report

Trade, the economy, and energy exports are resonating less with ordinary Canadians.

OTTAWA — Public-opinion research for the federal Finance Department suggests key government policies are out of step with Canadians’ priorities, including the Northern Gateway project.

Members of focus groups consulted prior to the February budget had “little enthusiasm” for the proposed bitumen pipeline to the BC coast – even those who said they support the controversial project.

And among the 12 groups consulted – from Coquitlam, BC, to Bridgewater, NS – the economy itself was not a top-of-mind concern.

Rather, the groups spontaneously raised education, health care, pensions and veterans as their key issues.

They also called for more processing and refining of Canada’s oil resources at home, and to do so in a more environmentally safe manner.

The findings of the January focus groups, commissioned from NRG Research Group, suggest the Harper government’s central policy themes – trade and the economy, with an emphasis on energy exports – are resonating less with ordinary Canadians.

“There is little enthusiasm for the (Northern Gateway) project, even among supporters,” says a Jan. 25 report on the findings. “Detractors worry about the environmental consequences in the event of a spill, particularly as a result of a tanker accident off the BC coast.”

The Harper government has made Northern Gateway a central plank of its energy strategy, and has pilloried environmental groups who oppose it, labelling them “radical.”

The focus groups, along with a public-opinion survey of 3,000 people, were carried out in advance of the Feb. 11 budget under a $135,000 contract.

The analysis of the 3,000-person survey’s raw numbers was conducted internally by the Privy Council Office rather than by the polling firm, under a policy dating from April 2010, and like all other such internal analysis is not routinely made public.

Treasury Board policy requires web posting only of public-opinion analysis commissioned from outside firms.

Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, intended to carry bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to the port of Kitimat, BC, got the federal cabinet’s blessing on June 17 on condition that 209 issues be resolved, including consultations with First Nations.

The project faces stiff opposition from numerous groups, including BC First Nations, and must overcome several court challenges.

New Democrat environment critic Megan Leslie said the focus-group report “shows what the NDP has been saying all along, that BC MPs, Conservative MPs, are going to have to answer to this.”

“There is not support for this project in BC and across Canada,” she said in an interview from Halifax. “It’s also really heartening to see that people spontaneously talked about resource development through a sustainable lens. They talked about refining and processing here in Canada. People get it.”

Asked for comment on the report, a spokesman for the Finance Department said only that the research helps measure the “evolution” of Canadian attitudes.

“The use of quantitative (telephone survey data) and qualitative (focus group) research allow the Finance Department to get a clearer sense of the evolution of the public mood towards the state of the economy, Canadians’ sense of personal economic well-being and government actions in the economic arena,” David Barnabe said in an email.

Among the other issues participants raised:

– Canada Pension Plan reform: “This came up more often in Ontario, and the sentiment typically focused on the need to ensure this program is adequately funded.”

The government has resisted calls to improve CPP though has endorsed other pension-related reforms. The Ontario government has since promised its own public pension plan.

– Veterans: “Concerns expressed whether enough was being done to help individuals with health/mental issues arising from their military service.”

The government faced a barrage of veterans’ criticisms over the last year, especially related to military suicides, but says it has improved benefits and care.

– Health care and education “continue to come up regularly in the discussions.”

The government has said these are areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction, but has promised stable, predictable block funding.

The report also found that lower-income households were less sanguine about the state of the economy than wealthier households, citing few well-paid jobs being generated and saying “the gap between rich and poor is growing.”

“Unbalanced or unequal are words that come up frequently to describe the economy for these individuals,” says the document. “Participants often stated that economic decisions tended to support the corporate sector more than average families.”

Said Leslie: “Canadians have a broader perspective on what the economy is than the Conservatives, (who) talk about their laser-like focus.

“I would actually say that it’s an incredibly narrow focus, on their own navel.”

The focus groups, two in each community, were conducted in Coquitlam, BC; Calgary; Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont.; Toronto; Quebec City; and Bridgewater, NS.

© 2014 The Canadian Press

5 Comments » for Harper’s central policies resonating less with Canadians: report
  1. Eric Wilson says:

    Why should Canada export raw materials so other countries can make money of our resources? If raw exports were to be capped at say 20% of production; I suspect that processing facilities would immediately be built in Canada. Creating jobs, hopefully with little government support.

  2. Denys Jones says:

    I do not understand why Canada keep exporting raw materials, for example the Northern pipeline. What about a Southern pipeline to a Gasoline manufacturing facility based in Ontario.
    We are mostly using US manufactured in Ontario, we are paying more than US citizens for our gasoline lets solve the problem.
    Start using Canadian refined Gasoline based on raw material from Canada.

  3. Greg Jackson says:

    Clearly, Denys and Eric never majored in economics. In order for us to refine bitumen into products like gasoline for domestic use, we first would have to have a big enough market to sustain the operations.
    With respect to the relative cost of gasoline here and south of the border, it has nothing to do with where it came from, as the price of oil is determined on world markets. It has to do with tax. The same tax that pays for all the government handouts that the “ordinary Canadians” are focused on.

    • Steve says:

      There is a market. We use plenty of gas. Also, we could also export the gas with pipes instead of sending out the raw materials.

      It’s like saying there isn’t a market for furniture, so we have to sell wood and buy furniture. Whatever the cost of gas, at least let that money stay here instead of being paid to the USA.

      As for the article, very disheartening, and no surprise. Justin’s conditioner resonates more with people.

  4. Randy Jorundson says:

    Eastern Canada wants more social programs/ nanny intervention. The only way to achieve your social wants is to export our oil v/s taxing all Canadians. One only needs to follow the money to understand that the true resistance is coming from foreign sources and not true Canadians. The USA is funding behind the scenes for one purpose. Without China’s dependance on dirty USA coal they’re rich 1% would see their portfolios drop. Emissions across the world would drop and the USA would no longer be the leader they think they are. Those in the survey have no understanding of the economics or which government provides what service. Education is provincial. CPP would be fine had the governments of Quebec and Ontario returned the money they had borrowed many years back. Asking me to put more into a program which pays out far less than I can achieve under my own planned retirement is criminal. Liberal governments past and present have made their friends very wealthy with the selection of winners and losers. Mark my words the pension plan being panned by the Liberal government of Ontario will be mismanaged as it is with everything they have touched. Expect their will be some very rich friends as the scandals roles out from the Ontario government. The Conservative government of Canada has made promises they should not step back from as I for one am tired of the channel changing to meet a directive of a small minority . Keeping your word as a government is more important than satisfying Unifor the job killer union or the minority of Canadians taking money from foreign interests to disrupt our economy for the benefit of the 1%. Justin Trudeau’s plan to create his carbon pricing is code for multi-billion dollar fraud and corruption all to benefit his 1% friends. Carbon pricing overseas has not removed one gram of carbon yet it has created billions in fraud and scams. Another Liberal scandal designed to enrich the 1%. Next Justin will be panning an oxygen tax.

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