Some Deficit Spending OK: Poll

By Kives, Bartley | Winnipeg Free Press, December 24, 2015 | Go to article overview

Some Deficit Spending OK: Poll


Kives, Bartley, Winnipeg Free Press


Voters support cash for infrastructure

A Probe Research poll suggests deficit spending on infrastructure is OK with a majority of Manitobans, whose province ranks among the worst in Canada on several measures of fiscal prudence.

A telephone survey conducted this month suggests 73 per cent of Manitobans believe it would be acceptable for the next provincial government to run a modest deficit in order to spend more on infrastructure.

The survey of 1,000 adults suggests 23 per cent of Manitobans believe deficits should be avoided, even if that means cutting infrastructure spending.

Manitobans go to the polls April 19. The governing New Democratic Party has posted deficits every fiscal year since 2009-10.

The poll results may be just as welcome for the opposition Progressive Conservatives, who have pledged to roll back the provincial sales tax by one percentage point, to seven per cent, and forgo hundreds of millions in revenue as a result.

"This gives some wiggle room to the Tories, who have sort of painted themselves into a corner with their PST-reduction promise," Probe Research president Scott MacKay said.

"It gives them a little bit of room to present a modest deficit for a limited time."

As recently as a decade ago, deficits were so unpopular in Canada, governments generally wouldn't dare to run them. Being in the red came back in vogue following the 2008 worldwide recession, when some economists began preaching the benefits of economic-stimulus programs as well as the financial wisdom of borrowing money at low interest rates to fix crumbling infrastructure.

This fall, the success of the federal Liberal party, which promised to post a series of deficits, illustrated voters are no longer allergic to red ink, MacKay said.

Deficits are so acceptable to the Manitoba electorate, Probe Research found support for them among survey respondents who support all three of the main political parties.

Support for deficits was highest among NDP supporters (89 per cent) and lowest among Tory voters (60 per cent).

A separate Probe Research survey of 200 Manitoba CEOs and business owners in November and December also found support for modest deficits, with 59 per cent of business leaders in favour and 37 per cent opposed.

MacKay said his poll question did not reference the long-term effects of running successive deficits. All the results suggest, he said, is the public is OK with the idea of a small deficit, for a specified period of time.

This week, Finance Minister Greg Dewar projected the province's 2015-16 deficit -- its seventh consecutive fiscal year-end deficit -- would be $485 million, $63 million higher than expected. …

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