Most Canadians want government to expand the services it provides, but they don’t want to pay for it

By Ian Holliday, Research Associate

The title of this piece could double as a one-sentence summary of the Angus Reid Institute’s recent report on support for a guaranteed minimum income in Canada.

Most Canadians support a guaranteed income program, but they don’t want to pay more in taxes to support it.

This is a pattern we see a lot in polling in Canada. In general, Canadians like to see government step in to solve social problems, whether it’s a slumping economy, a dearth of retirement savings, a housing crisis, or the cost and availability of prescription drugs.

But, when they’re asked to consider raising taxes to pay for a new thing, Canadians are more circumspect.

On guaranteed income, roughly two-thirds of Canadians said they would support the implementation of such a program on the national scale, but approximately the same number disagreed with the statement “I would be willing to pay more in taxes to support a guaranteed income program in Canada.”

In a similar vein, here’s the percentage of Canadians who told ARI last year that they would like to see Canada add prescription drug coverage to the country’s health care system:health

And here’s what Canadians said when asked about potential means of paying for a national pharmacare program:

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The only item that receives majority support in that graph (except for pharmacare itself) is raising corporate tax rates (This follows another pattern we often see in polling: People are more likely to support taxes they perceive as applying to others, but not to themselves).

On one hand, this desire to see greater government investment in certain programs – but simultaneous aversion to giving the government more money to invest – makes no sense. Taxes are a necessity (some would say a necessary evil) in order for government to function, so if you want the government to expand its functions, you should be willing to expand taxation.

On the other hand, there’s a perfectly intuitive logic to the position that Canadians so often end up taking on government expansion and how to pay for it.

Most people want nice things. So it’s no surprise when Canadians say they would support governments providing new nice things – like a guaranteed income or a national pharmacare program – to their citizens.

Likewise, most people don’t want their tax bills going up. So it’s no surprise when Canadians balk at the possibility that might happen.

This is why it’s always important to ask both the overall support question and the cost question in surveys.

It’s also why governments are always looking for alternative revenue streams. If they can remove the need to raise taxes from the equation, they can implement popular programs without the same level of opposition over cost.

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