Canadians Sweeten, While Americans Sour, On Big Government

November 1st, 2021 | SP

Our American friends to the south have soured on big government, according to the latest Gallup poll. At this time, one year ago, a majority of Americans believed their government should play a larger role in their everyday lives. The tides have now turned and 52% of Americans believe the government's role is too large. While this is the case for our southern neighbours, how do our fellow Canadians feel about the same issue?

We know that Canadians are satisfied with their democracy, according to the latest results from Pew Research. 66% of Canadians are happy with how democracy is working in their country, compared to only 41% in the United States. These numbers may not reflect any sort of correlation with how satisfied Canadians may be with the size and role of their government, but it gives us a much expected indication that Canadians must not think so badly about how governments have handled the past two years. Because their governments are democratically elected, they must, therefore, be satisfied with their own decisions as voters and the actions of the governments they have re-elected.


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According to the results from Pew, 58% of Americans are unhappy with the state of their democracy. At the same time, 52% from the Gallup poll believe their governments have gone too far with their expansive and intrusive agendas since 2020. Although these numbers are similar, we should not assume that satisfaction in democracy is the equivalent of satisfaction with the size and role of government. However, it is difficult to come away with the notion that an intrusive, negatively viewed government that is democratically elected would lead to a positive rating about a nation's democratic system.

We do not have very much current data about how Canadians view the size and scale of their government, but how Canadians view subjects and issues that require a larger, more intrusive government is a very reliable indicator.

The results of a poll from Pollara in 2019 told us that 67% of Canadians want their governments and political parties to do more on climate change. That same poll revealed that 50% of Canadians believed that the Conservative Party platform did “too little” to address climate change. This, of course, was after the 2019 federal election fought by Andrew Scheer, when the party stood firmly against a national carbon tax.

A more current poll from August of this year, conducted by Ipsos, reveals that 77% of Canadians believe their country should do more to fight climate change, a marked increase from 2019. 58% of those surveyed agreed that fighting climate change would have negative economic impacts.

On a brighter note, a Nanos survey from May of this year revealed that 74% of Canadians are concerned about little Justin's deficits and debt. Unfortunately, only months later, a majority of Canadians voted for political parties that promised to increase those deficits and the national debt. Only 38% of Canadians voted for a party that promised to slash spending and deficits (CPC and PPC). This gives us the indication that—if my math is correct—36% of Canadians said they were concerned about deficits, but then proceeded to vote for a party that promised more spending and deficits (Liberals, NDP, Green).

This is an evident conundrum of Canadian thinking.

This same conundrum can be seen in the results of a current survey on equalization. Conducted by Mainstreet Research last month, the poll found that a majority of Canadians believe equalization treats Alberta unfairly—but that a majority also believe the program treats most provinces fairly. My apologies if you are confused, but that was not an error on my part. My friends, don't spend too much time trying to figure it out. I have spent much time doing the same and have come to the conclusion that this Canadian conundrum is unsolvable.

"The tides have now turned and 52% of Americans believe the government's role is too large."

In most instances it would be considered absurd, or an error, to find that a majority believe a system is “fair overall”, but that the very same system treats a specific province “unfairly”. A system with “aspects” that treat one province less fairly than other provinces cannot, by any rational conclusion, be viewed as “fair”. Canada's equalization formula is either fair, or it is not. The unfair treatment of one province is an immediate and obvious indication that it is not a fair system.

How Canadians have managed to give two opposing answers to a single question is one heck of a conundrum!

In the absence of current surveys on how Canadians view the size and reach of their government, we can conclude that Canadians are, in fact, pleased with the current situation. There is enough data on the subject of policies that Canadians support to conclude that the size and scale of their government's are not large enough. In a majority of surveys in which Canadians are asked substantive policy questions, their answers reflect a preference for higher degrees of government intervention.

Meanwhile, our American friends have drifted to the opposite end of the political scale. As the size and intrusiveness of their local and federal governments have expanded, they have become more resistant to the changes. From the perspective of history, Canadians are still—and will continue to be—Empire Loyalists. The Canadian tradition of drifting in the opposite direction of their American friends should not be expected to change soon. It has spent the good part of two centuries being ingrained into their culture.

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