Canadians like stimulus but want it to end

Canadians are generally supportive of federal government actions to rescue the economy through stimulus spending — and most think it did some good, a poll suggests.

OTTAWA — Canadians are generally supportive of federal government actions to rescue the economy through stimulus spending — and most think it did some good, a poll suggests.

But after two years and $47 billion in spending on infrastructure, bail-outs, tax cuts and targeted incentives, the numbers indicate they also think it’s time to put an end to the program.

The results from the latest poll by The Canadian Press Harris-Decima give the Harper government kudos for how it handled the recession, and ammunition for phasing out the last of the stimulus in October.

The results appear to indicate that most Canadians don’t agree with the assessment of the parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page, who concluded that the stimulus created few jobs.

In the survey conducted Dec. 9-13, 55 per cent of respondents said they strongly supported or supported the stimulus, against only 23 per cent who did not.

And 51 per cent said the package had been very or somewhat effective, as opposed to 34 per cent who called it ineffective.

In perhaps the most surprising finding, 52 per cent of respondents said Ottawa’s decision to extend infrastructure stimulus to next Oct. 31 — on projects that could not be completed by the March 31 deadline — was the correct call. But after that, they say the government should pull the plug.

The poll of 1,000 Canadians is accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times in 20.

Only 23 per cent of those polled said they felt Ottawa should continue with stimulus spending beyond that date.

On all three questions, there was very little differentiating the supporters of the three major national parties, although Conservatives tended to be the biggest boosters, followed by Liberals and New Democrats.

The biggest divergence in opinion came along regional lines.

Quebec tended to be less supportive than other parts of the country, particularly on the question of effectiveness. A slight majority thought the stimulus had not been effective, the only region in the country where most did not believe the stimulus had worked.

Interestingly, only a minority — three in 10 — said they were aware of stimulus dollars at work in their communities.

Recently, budget watchdog Page also cast wary eye on just how many jobs were created by infrastructure spending, which include contributions from provinces and municipalities.

In Page’s commissioned survey of municipalities that administered the Infrastructure Stimulus Fund, 21 per cent said they used the money to boost employment, but 43 per cent said it had no impact on job creation.

When the stimulus was introduced, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty estimated it would create or save about 180,000 jobs, but he made no attempt to separate infrastructure spending from other forms of stimulus.

The minister has since defended the effectiveness of the spending, pointing out that the government intervention cushioned the blow for Canadians, and that about 440,000 new jobs had been created since July 2009.

That is also the general view of economists. The vast majority say the stimulus, along with the Bank of Canada’s aggressive action to reduce interest rates, kept the economy from suffering an even worse slump in 2009.

International organizations such as the International Monetary Fund have also praised the response of policy-makers. The IMF has judged that Canada suffered the least during the recession among the G7 and will lead the group of big advanced economies in the recovery.