The CEO Poll: Budget 2008 good, but thin

Canadian business leaders applaud the federal budget.

Business leaders give the federal mini-budget high marks.

Canadian business leaders give the federal government’s recent budget high marks, even while acknowledging that the measures are “sparse and thin,” according to a recent web poll conducted by COMPAS Inc. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s budget received a mean score of 69 out of 100 in the poll of 117 CEOs and small- and medium-sized business leaders.

Measures to pay down the federal debt, as well as the removal of disincentives to seniors staying on the job, received high marks from those surveyed. Respondents also approved of the government’s move to extend the 50% capital tax writeoff for the value of new machinery and the decision to make the $2-billion Gas Tax Fund permanent. “The best part of the budget is debt reduction and if more could be done, it should be,” wrote one CEO.

That approval was tempered with disappointment that what few proposals were included in the budget did not go far enough. For instance, most companies will not be able to take advantage of the capital tax writeoff extension since it often takes up to five years to plan and implement a major capital expenditure, one respondent stated. “The government has done nothing to foster new investment, which would protect jobs and enhance productivity.”

The budget did little to address the slowing economy, the impact of the high Canadian dollar or the long-term problems with Canadian infrastructure and manufacturing. “Given the economic uncertainty [this budget] is too little, too late,” wrote one respondent. “Infrastructure needs to see $15 billion over five years or we become Third World. Improved productivity will die on the roads and fall off the bridges on the way to global markets.”

A majority of those surveyed gave a thumbs-up to proposals to establish tax-free savings accounts and strengthen border security and services. However, they were substantially less enthusiastic about proposed measures to improve the Immigration and Refugee Act and speed up the application process for new Canadians. Only 19% of those surveyed gave improvements in immigration top marks, compared with 43% who rated debt reduction highest.