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The role of government and division of power: National survey reveals Canadians’ views divided about pandemic management

Released on Monday, the report details how most Canadians continue to be comfortable with the division of powers and the decentralized nature of the federation. While there is widespread support for increases in federal transfers to provinces and territories for health care, care for the elderly, and child care, the public is more divided as to whether this funding should be tied to the acceptance of national standards.

SASKATOON – Researchers from the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (JSGS) at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) and the University of Regina (U of R) have collaborated with leading public policy organizations across the country to release the second report produced from the Confederation of Tomorrow 2021 Survey of Canadians.

Released on Monday, the report details how most Canadians continue to be comfortable with the division of powers and the decentralized nature of the federation. While there is widespread support for increases in federal transfers to provinces and territories for health care, care for the elderly, and child care, the public is more divided as to whether this funding should be tied to the acceptance of national standards.

“Canadians benefit from a centrally-funded health care system, with devolved decision-making authority, as it provides provincial and territorial governments with the ability to make regionally based decisions,” said Loleen Berdahl, JSGS executive director. “However, increased pressures on health care systems, the significant and longstanding concerns regarding the structure, delivery, and financing of long-term care, and the need for greater child care support for families is causing a greater need for discussions on the quality of care provided and the need for greater financial support from the federal government.”

The survey also revealed that Canadians’ opinions are divided when it comes to which government is trusted more to make the right decisions in managing the COVID-19 pandemic. In the Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Prince Edward Island, respondents have greater trust in provincial or territorial governments to manage the pandemic; whereas, in Alberta and Saskatchewan, trust in the federal government is higher. 

“This does not mean that people in Saskatchewan and Alberta don’t trust their provincial governments, or that everyone in these provinces trust the federal government—just that among all provinces, the federal trust number in Alberta and Saskatchewan is highest,” said Dr. Andrew Parkin, executive director at the Environics Institute.

Although the pandemic has sharpened public attention on the respective roles of the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, it has not prompted Canadians to rethink their preferences regarding the division of powers between the orders of governments. Most Canadians continue to be comfortable with the decentralized nature of the federation, with relatively few seeing the need to transfer powers from their provincial or territorial government to Ottawa. 

Report highlights include:

  • 31% of Canadians favour a larger government with more services; 19% favour a smaller government with fewer services.
  • 34% of Canadians living in cities with populations of at least one million favour a larger government with more services, compared to 25% of those living in communities with populations under 100,000.
  • Men (27%) are more than twice as likely as women (12%) to favour smaller governments offering fewer services.
  • 44% of 18 to 24-year-olds favour a larger government with more services, compared to 23% of those age 55 and older.
  • Residents of the Prairie provinces are the most likely to say that governments negatively impact most people’s lives (46%), followed by those in Ontario (34%) and B.C. (33%); residents of the Atlantic provinces (30%), Quebec (27%) and the territories (25%) are the least likely to hold this view.
  • Canadians living in cities with populations below 200,000 are more likely to see governments’ impact as negative rather than positive; the reverse is true for those living in communities with populations above 200,000.
  • Immigrants (42%), and especially recent immigrants (49%), are more likely to say governments have a positive impact than second generation (36%) or third generation-plus (34%) Canadians.
  • The proportion of respondents saying their provincial government should take charge of many of the things the federal government does right now fell by 12 points in Alberta (from 49% to 37%), and by nine points in Saskatchewan (from 44% to 35%). That said, support for decentralization continues to be higher in these two provinces than in any other province other than Quebec.
  • 79% of Canadians favour additional federal funding for health care and care for the elderly, and 67% favour additional federal funding for child care.
  • Two in five say that the federal government should provide more funding to the provinces and territories, and let each province and territory decide how to spend this money to improve services in their area. Whereas one in three say that the federal government should create a single set of national standards for services in each of these [health care, care for the elderly, and child care] areas, and then provide more funding only to provinces and territories that meet those standards.
  • In Saskatchewan and Alberta, opinion is more or less split between favouring more federal funding while allowing provinces to decide how to spend this money to improve services in their area.
  • 29% of Canadians trust both the federal and their provincial or territorial government equally to manage the health care system in relation to the pandemic, 28% trust their provincial or territorial government more, and 21% trust the federal government more. An additional 16% trust neither government.
  • The proportion trusting federal government more to manage the pandemic is highest in Alberta (33%) and Saskatchewan (31%); and lowest in Nova Scotia (14%), Quebec (13%), B.C. (10%) and the Northwest Territories (10%).

Click here to read the full report, The Role of Governments and the Division of Powers: Federalism in the Context of a Pandemic, issued from the Confederation of Tomorrow 2021 survey.

This year’s Confederation of Tomorrow survey was conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research, the Canada West Foundation, the Centre D’Analyse Politique – Constitution et Fédéralisme, the Institute for Research on Public Policy, the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government, and the JSGS. The 2021 study consisted of a survey of 5,814 adults, conducted online in the provinces between January 25 and February 17, and online and by telephone in the territories between January 25 and March 1.

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For more information, contact:
  

Erica Schindel
Communication and Marketing Manager
Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy
306-966-2663
erica.schindel@usask.ca

Victoria Dinh 
USask Media Relations
306-966-5487 
victoria.dinh@usask.ca 

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