Ottawa is always a focus of national attention in September. But this year, there was more to watch than usual. As public officials declared the recession vanquished, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty revised upward the expected deficit for fiscal 2009 and pushed back his ETA for a return to balanced budgets. Meanwhile, speculation mounted as to whether the feds will be forced to increase taxes to fill the growing hole in Ottawa’s books. Most critically, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s minority government seemed to be in peril, as Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff agitated for an election. However, with the NDP and Bloc Québécois lending support, the government survived the first week of the session. Still, the question on many lips remained: In the event of yet another election, what sort of government would best manage inflation, taxation and spending?
Compas Inc. put that question to CEOs and business leaders in a recent poll. Respondents had a strong preference (nearly 90%) for a majority government. Said one: “A five-party system belongs in Italy, not Canada.”
Asked to choose between majority and minority/coalition governments led by Harper or Ignatieff, 69% of those polled thought a Harper majority would foster the best conditions for economic growth. Results were similar when participants were asked about specific elements of economic policy such as inflation. As for the factors influencing the current government’s policies, panelists believed the views of the opposition were more important than international forums such as the G7 and G20.
Comments from participants hardly offered a ringing endorsement for the federal Conservative party, however. “Unfortunately, neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives have skill, intelligence and vision to lead Canada past this economic slowdown,” opined one respondent. (Former prime minister Jean Chrétien, a Liberal, received praise for “single-minded” control of public spending while in office.) And some clearly lamented the prospects for a return to the polls. “We need another election now like we need another hole in our head,” one respondent quipped.