The CEO Poll: Allocating the federal budget

Most CEOs want Flaherty's budget to hold the line on spending.

Business leaders give the federal mini-budget high marks.

Many Canadian CEOs have a message for Finance Minister Jim Flaherty before he releases the federal budget on March 4: paying down the national debt is still Job 1.

A recent Compas poll of Canadian CEOs and business leaders, sked whether spending in various areas should increase, decrease or stay the same. Generally, the executives tended to prefer that spending levels remain steady, despite deficit projections. But there are areas where some expressed interest in increases. Repayment of Canada’s national debt was the area where most CEOs wanted to see money channelled, with 44% saying the government needs to contribute more. However, the result was far from unanimous: 42% say the amount should remain unchanged, and 14% say it should fall.

Another priority many CEOs favour is increased spending for retirement planning, with 40% calling for more funding to expand Old Age Security, RRSPs and similar programs. (One recent policy change being discussed is the C. D. Howe Institute’s proposal that private-sector and self-employed workers be allowed to contribute a million dollars over their lifetime to retirement savings programs.) However, 55% of the poll’s respondents say the amount spent on retirement should remain unchanged, and 5% say it should fall.

CEOs’ opinions on post-secondary spending have remained about the same as they were in 2008, with 61% of the respondents in the current poll saying funding should remain steady in 2010. Executives also show limited support for increased health spending, with 64% saying it should remain the same. Similarly, 56% would keep military spending unchanged; 26% would decrease it.

When it comes to protecting the environment, chief executives don’t feel as green-minded as they used to. Where 36% said they thought federal spending on environmental protection should rise in 2008, only 16% feel the same way today. In fact, 29% of respondents in the recent poll think that environmental spending should decrease, which is up from the 9% who felt that way two years ago.