OTTAWA Canadians say Stephen Harper was motivated by political survival and would never have unveiled this week's multibillion-dollar stimulus budget were it not for opposition pressure.
A new Globe and Mail-CTV poll also found that, despite moderate support for the budget, most Canadians continue to hold Mr. Harper responsible for the crisis atmosphere that prompted it and believe he hasn't fundamentally changed.
“Canadians think Harper has done this with a gun to his head,” said Peter Donolo, a partner with the Strategic Counsel, the firm that conducted the poll. “They feel this wouldn't have happened had the opposition not held his feet to the fire.”
The poll also shows that Quebeckers are significantly more negative about the Prime Minister and the budget than are Canadians in other regions, and that voters are now less likely to support the government because of the budget.
According to the poll, 72 per cent of Canadians say the government would not have introduced the stimulative budget of this week had it not been for the pressure of opposition parties, whose members threatened to bring down the Harper government and install a coalition. Similarly, 69 per cent say they still blame Mr. Harper for causing an unnecessary political crisis late last year when he should have been focusing on the economy. In Quebec, 83 per cent of respondents blame the Prime Minister for the crisis.
Asked whether they believe Mr. Harper has changed since the fall and is taking the country's economic troubles more seriously, 63 per cent said they perceived no change and that the budget is all about politics. In Quebec, 74 per cent said they don't believe he changed.
“In Quebec, Stephen Harper has the reverse Midas touch,” Mr. Donolo said. “This budget suffers by being associated with him.”
Mr. Donolo said he believes Mr. Harper's harsh rhetoric against the Bloc Québécois in December, when the BQ agreed to support the coalition, has come back to haunt the Tories.
“He's paying the piper now,” the pollster said.
The poll also shows that the decision of new Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff to avoid bringing down the Tories may have been the right one. Thirty-eight per cent of respondents say they would be less likely to vote Liberal should the Grits defeat the budget.
“If they had done the opposite, it would have come at a political cost to them,” Mr. Donolo said.
Similarly, 38 per cent say they are now less likely to vote for the Conservatives because of the budget.
Nonetheless, a majority say they are supportive of the document, with 62 per cent saying they have a positive impression, compared with 38 per cent who feel the opposite; 52 per cent say the budget gives them confidence in Mr. Harper's ability to manage the economy, compared with 48 per cent who feel otherwise. Conservative supporters – at 92 per cent – are significantly more likely to believe in the PM's economic management, while supporters of other parties are far less optimistic.
Canadians are also urging the opposition parties to back the budget, with a full two-thirds saying they should support it. Even 47 per cent of New Democratic voters feel that way. The NDP has said it will vote against the budget.
When asked to name the top three beneficiaries of the budget, large corporations showed up most often. Poor Canadians and older/retired Canadians were seen as those benefiting the least.
The online poll of 1,000 Canadians was conducted Jan. 28-29.