Canadians staying optimistic, poll says
Most believe country is in recession, but they'll be OK
Tim Harper
OTTAWA Seven in 10 Canadians believe the country is in recession, a major poll released today shows, yet they seem curiously optimistic that the economic downturn will not have a major effect on their own well-being.

The Toronto Star/La Presse/SRC poll by EKOS Research shows a high level of optimism among Canadians that their personal financial situation will improve in the long term and will remain largely unchanged in the short term.

EKOS also found that most of those polled do not plan to put off major expenditures and just slightly more than one in four polled felt there was a "good chance" they would lose their jobs over the next couple of years.

"It is a curiously benign recession," said EKOS president Frank Graves.

"If the gross domestic product is down, why are Canadians still up?"

EKOS surveyed 2,400 Canadians over eight weeks since Sept. 11 to gauge their view of the economy and Ottawa's actions to fight terrorism. The results are valid with plus-or-minus 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

EKOS also tested reactions to Finance Minister Paul Martin's Monday budget, polling 1,200 Canadians from the evening of the budget until Wednesday evening, and found, although most Canadians polled disagreed with the focus of the Liberal security budget, they do not feel Martin's $7.7 billion security package will hurt their own prospects.

That poll has the same margin of error.

Neither Martin nor Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge has ever used the word "recession" to describe the Canadian economic situation, but that didn't stop 70 per cent of those polled from telling EKOS that was their perception.

Some 37 per cent of respondents this week told EKOS they would defer a major expenditure because of economic uncertainty, but 43 per cent said they would not.

Only 17 per cent said they felt their personal situation would worsen in the next year, while 32 per cent thought things would get better.

When they were asked to look five years down the road, Canadians, according to Graves, get "positively Pollyannish" with only 16 per cent believing things will worsen, while 47 per cent were convinced things would be better.

With economic confidence remaining high, there are prospects for only a short-term and shallow downturn, Graves said.

On the budget, EKOS found only 15 per cent believing the Liberals were on the right track when they concentrated on post-Sept. 11 security in the first budget in 20 months, while 42 per cent felt they should have focused on social well-being and quality-of-life issues.

However, over the years, EKOS has always found a gap between the focus of the budget and what Canadians believe should have been the priorities the difference this time is that it doesn't appear to have cost the government support, Graves said.

EKOS also found 66 per cent support for the Canadian military commitment of more than 2,000 personnel.

But there is strong support for a "made-in-Canada" response with 39 per cent saying Canada should focus resources and efforts on peacekeeping in Afghanistan and 38 per cent saying the focus should be humanitarian aid.

Only 22 per cent said military retaliation should be Ottawa's priority.

Despite that, however, 59 per cent said they would continue to support Canadian military participation in the region even if the U.S. decides to attack other countries it believes are harbouring terrorists.

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