Budget 2024: Here’s what Canadians want from Ottawa

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland, right, speaks in front of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a housing announcement in Vancouver, Wednesday, March. 27, 2024. © THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ethan Cairns

Canadians are mostly looking for help paying their bills in the 2024 federal budget, not investments in the military or clean energy transitions, according to polling released Friday.

The Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News surveyed 1,000 Canadians between March 15 and 18 about what their top three priorities were for the upcoming federal budget, set to be tabled by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland on April 16.

Women (53 per cent) more so than men (36 per cent) rated cost-of-living support as a priority. Half of gen X respondents (those born between 1965 and 1980) said they were looking for pocketbook help in the budget, the highest proportion of any generation.

“Pocketbook issues dominate the list of the things that Canadians want to see addressed in the budget,” Sean Simpson, senior vice-president at Ipsos Global Affairs, tells Global News.

He says he sees a clear focus among voters on taxes, affordability and other household finances in the polling.

“All those issues, in some way, shape or form, are tied to the amount of money that Canadians have that seems to be draining from their wallet at record speeds these days,” Simpson says.

The other budget line item garnering significant interest is investments in health care, with 38 per cent of respondents ranking it as a priority.

But when asked about a hypothetical hike of one per cent in the GST to fund services like pharmacare – the framework for which the Liberals have introduced as part of their supply-and-confidence deal with the NDP – only five per cent of those surveyed said they saw it as a priority.

Instead, more Canadians are signalling that they’re hoping for a reduced tax burden from Ottawa.

One in three respondents said they’d like to see a cut to their personal tax rates included in the 2024 budget, while one in five said they want the Liberals to freeze the federal carbon price, which rose on April 1. The planned increase spurred countrywide protests that halted traffic on major Canadian roadways.

Broken out by voting intentions, Conservative-leaning respondents ranked a freeze on the carbon price as their No. 1 priority. Liberal and NDP supporters ranked the rising cost of living as their top concern, with the carbon price absent from their top three priorities.

Simpson says that while other voters might be tired of hearing the Conservative Party “hammering” on the federal carbon price, he says it’s clearly working to energize the party’s base.

“If they’re going to keep repeating that message, turnout is going to be high for the Tories, because they keep talking about the message that matters most to their voters,” he says.

Some 19 per cent said they wanted to see the Liberals reduce their overall spending, while 18 per cent signalled reducing the federal deficit should be a priority for Ottawa this spring.

But like Canadians, the federal government is finding it has less cash on hand to meet its own rising costs, including servicing debt under the weight of higher interest rates. The parliamentary budget officer said in a report last month that the slowing economy and rising debt costs are leaving Ottawa with little fiscal wiggle room heading into the 2024 budget.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Liberal MPs have been on a cross-country tour teeing up line items in the budget related to Canada’s housing marketaffordability and homebuilding efforts.

Some 15 per cent of respondents to the Ipsos poll said they’d like to see measures that will cool the housing market in the federal budget, while 12 per cent indicated that funding to build new homes was a priority.

Only five per cent of respondents said an increase in the GST rebate for homebuyers was a priority, though that rose to 10 per cent of gen Z respondents (born between 1997 and 2005).

Simpson says that while separate Ipsos polling shows housing is a key issue for voters, it’s a hard topic for politicians to tackle effectively.

Any efforts to outright cool the housing market – softening prices to make it easier for prospective buyers to get a rung on the property ladder – would likely put off the roughly two-thirds of Canadians who already own their homes and are hoping to see those values rise, he says.

Measures to expand the overall supply of housing are meanwhile “long-term plays” that can take upwards of a decade to payoff, which Simpson says can make them a hard sell for politicians looking ahead to the next federal election.

The latest Ipsos political polling from March 28 has the Conservatives up 18 points over the incumbent Liberals, who are themselves only three points ahead of the NDP. Simpson says the Liberals will need to “stop the bleeding” to avoid falling into third place behind the NDP.

A federal election is currently slated for no later than October 2025, but could be called earlier if the Liberals fail a confidence vote or bring down the government themselves.

Simpson says the 2024 budget will be “one of the last chances” for the Liberals to “change their narrative ahead of the next election cycle.”

The budget might not be enough to completely reverse the Liberals’ fortunes, Simpson says, but can be a way to shore up support among former voters who are leaning Conservative but want to see more fiscal responsibility from the Trudeau regime, for example.

“Maybe people will take a second look at the Liberals who have, at this point, written them off,” Simpson says.

“Can this be a momentum driver for the Liberals? Potentially. Can it reverse an 18-point deficit? Probably not.”

Other priorities, such as increasing defence spending and accelerating the transition to clean energy, ranked lower on Canadians’ lists in the Ipsos polling:

  • Investing in Canada’s ​Armed Forces and defence​ (11 per cent)
  • To support the transition to greener energy​ (10 per cent)
  • Incentives to lower their carbon footprint​ (nine per cent)
  • Help businesses struggling with the pandemic impact (eight per cent)
  • Freeze hiring in the federal public service (six per cent)

Source: Global News