Just 1-in-4 Canadians say their provincial government is doing a “good job managing the deficit”

by Angus Reid | November 1, 2016 11:28 am

By Dave Korzinski[1] and Ian Holliday[2], Research Associates

November 1, 2016 – One of the prevailing stories in Canada these days is debt. Specifically, that Canadians have a lot of it.

In 2015, the household debt burden in this country rose to a record high of 165.4 per cent of disposable income[3], and so far in 2016, it has held steady (at 165.2%). Chances are readers will have experience with debt in their day-to-day lives, and this experience likely factors into the persistent economic anxiety[4] the Angus Reid Institute has recorded in recent years.

A new institute analysis of quarterly polling data* shows another type of debt that may be weighing on the minds of Canadians: provincial debt.

Only Alberta, which retains a net surplus accumulated during happier times for the provincial economy, has a positive account balance. Quebec and Ontario both owe more than $20,000 per citizen in net debt:


But how does this translate in terms of public opinion?

Asked how they feel their provincial government is doing in terms of managing its budget deficit (note that net debt is the accumulated balance of the yearly deficit, which is the amount government takes in versus the amount it spends).

Overall, just 23 per cent of Canadians say their province is doing a good job, compared to nearly three times that many (61%) who say their provincial government is doing a poor job.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that net debt there recently surpassed $300 billion, Ontario has the lowest percentage of residents taking a positive view of their leaders’ management of budget deficits. Just 12 per cent say the Wynne government is doing a good job on this file.

Opinion is similarly low in the province with the highest per capita debt ($24,000 per person): Newfoundland and Labrador. Here, just 14 per cent of residents say Dwight Ball and his government are doing a good job managing budget deficits.

Even in Saskatchewan, where premier Brad Wall consistently ranks as the most popular provincial leader[5] in the country, respondents are more likely to say government handling of the deficit has been poor than to say it has been good. Two-in-five (42%) residents approve of the Wall government’s handling of this issue, compared to 48 per cent who say it has been poor. It’s worth noting that the percentage of Saskatchewanians saying the government is doing a poor job of managing the deficit has jumped 11 points from since the third quarter of 2015. This, after the government announced a deficit projection of almost $200 million more than expected[6] in June.

As seen in the following graph, places where per-capita provincial debt is higher tend to be places where confidence in the government’s management of budget deficits is lower, and vice versa.


A dim economic outlook and its potential political connection

So, what does all of this mean for provincial politics?

It might not mean a lot. There are a lot of different factors contributing to economic anxiety in Canada, including sluggish employment growth and the low price of oil. And economic issues – though often the most important factor in an election campaign – are rarely the only thing on which elections are based.

That said, Canadians’ general feeling of frustration with provincial handling of deficits and debt isn’t likely to help provincial premiers retain their jobs in the future. Consider the connection between economic outlook and premier approval.

Perhaps it will come as no surprise, that the two premiers who rank lowest in ARI’s quarterly approval ratings, Kathleen Wynne and Dwight Ball, are also leading the provinces with the highest percentage of respondents saying they expect the economy to worsen over the next year, Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador.


*A note on methodology:

The Angus Reid Institute analyzed the results of an online survey of 4,629 Canadian adults in a randomized and representative sample of Angus Reid Forum panelists from September 5 – 11 2016 The data was donated by MARU/VCR&C. A probability sample of this size carries a margin of error of +/- 2%, 19 times out of 20.

Summary tables follow for data included: deficit3



  1. Dave Korzinski: http://angusreid.org/our-team/dave-korzinski/
  2. Ian Holliday: http://angusreid.org/our-team/ian-holliday/
  3. 165.4 per cent of disposable income: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/canadas-household-debt-holds-near-record-levels-growth-moderates/article30444416/
  4. persistent economic anxiety: http://angusreid.org/federal-issues-may2016/
  5. most popular provincial leader: http://angusreid.org/premier-approval-sept2016/
  6. $200 million more than expected: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2016/04/22/saskatchewan-deficit-bigger-than-first-thought-says-premier-brad-wall.html

Source URL: https://angusreid.org/provincial-deficit/