How do Canadians feel about federal government spending? A new survey digs into it

Most Canadians say they feel the federal government is overspending, according to a new survey, but increased funding in some policy areas remains popular.

Conducted last month by the Angus Reid Institute (ARI) among a random sample of 1,602 Canadian adults, the survey asked for perspectives on the Canadian government’s spending and deficit ahead of the 2024 federal budget.

“As Canadians eye growing federal government spending with some concern … there are some areas where many would like to see cuts,” reads an ARI release on the survey.

“That said, there are myriad other areas where Canadians say the federal government is not spending enough.”

Fifty-nine per cent of respondents said they felt the government was spending too much, with only 18 per cent saying that spending was within an acceptable range and eight per cent reporting that the federal Liberals were underspending.

Perspectives differed by political affiliation.

Those who reported they would to vote for the Conservatives or Bloc Quebecois if an election were held that day were more likely to feel the government overspends, at 87 and 76 per cent, respectively. Only 30 per cent of would-be Liberal voters, meanwhile, found spending to be excessive, and those who intended to vote NDP were the most likely to describe government spending as insufficient, at 16 per cent.


Alongside impressions of overspending on the federal level were concerns about budget deficits. Sixty-six per cent of all respondents said they were concerned or very concerned about the federal deficit, with 29 per cent reporting little or no concern.

Concerns were most prevalent among Conservative Party of Canada supporters, at 89 per cent, with 68 per cent saying they were very concerned about the deficit. A majority of Bloc supporters felt similarly, at 67 per cent concerned or very concerned. Among those who would vote Liberal or NDP in a hypothetical election that day, concerns were less common, though still widespread at 46 and 47 per cent, respectively.


More here, less there

While Canadians, by and large, fear overspending on the whole, perspectives grow more complicated when broken down by policy area, with some key issues demanding increased spending among most respondents.

Across those surveyed, the largest proportions identified overspending in foreign aid, at 59 per cent, programs related to Indigenous reconciliation at 39 per cent, and environmental initiatives and government services, each with 32 per cent.

Meanwhile, other policy files enjoy notable support for increased funding, such as health care (67 per cent), Canada’s military and national defence (48 per cent), infrastructure (46 per cent) and social programs (41 per cent).


“Canada’s international assistance spending has increased in recent year[s], in part due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, and COVID-19 response measures,” the ARI release reads.

“Among all party supporters[,] cutting foreign aid spending and increasing health care funding are popular.”

Respondents were also asked about the path forward on existing policy commitments around pharmacare, dental care and defence-spending targets.

Were they to be made finance minister, 70 per cent of respondents said they would follow through on a new federal pharmacare program and 69 per cent said the same for federal dental care, two key planks of the confidence-and-supply agreement maintained by the Liberals and NDP.

Another 58 per cent agreed they would follow through on increasing Canada’s spending on defence to equal two per cent of the national GDP – a commitment requested by NATO that has not been satisfied since 1991, ARI notes.

Defunding Peter to pay Paul

There was division in the sample on where the money for those commitments should come from. For pharmacare, dental care and defence targets, fewer than one in four respondents said they should be funded through new taxes, while 48, 50 and 39 per cent, respectively, suggested that funding should be reallocated from other line items in the federal budget.


“While affirming these programs is popular, using new taxation to furnish them is not.” the ARI release said. “Canadians are much more likely to say that these programs should be funded with cuts to other areas.”

The government has announced that this year’s federal budget will be tabled in Parliament on April 16.


The data featured in this article is drawn from a survey conducted by the Angus Reid Institute from March 20 to 22, 2024, within a random, representative sample of 1,602 Canadian adults. The institute notes that for comparison purposes only, a sample of that size carries a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Totals may not add up to 100, due to rounding.

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