The CEO Poll: Budget boosters

Canadian business leaders support spending, decry deficit.

Business leaders give the federal mini-budget high marks.

The federal budget delivered by the Conservative government on Jan. 27 earned high marks in a recent web poll of Canadian CEOs conducted by COMPAS Inc.

The 126 respondents gave the budget a score of 68 out of 100, almost exactly the same score last year’s budget received. (The first budget from the Stephen Harper government, delivered in May 2006, received a score of 76).

The survey required the respondents to rate nine elements from the budget. Three initiatives tied for most popular among the CEOs: increasing the income eligible for the reduced small business tax rate to $500,000 from $400,000, extending the capital cost allowance on investment in manufacturing, and the $12 billion committed to infrastructure spending.

The $1.4 billion for Aboriginal skills training and housing on reserves was the only initiative on which the CEOs were lukewarm.

Most of the respondents agreed the magnitude of spending in the $258-billion budget is necessary to pull the Canadian economy out of its recession, although more than a few had misgivings. “I am very uncomfortable with the size and timeline for the increase in the debt,” wrote one respondent.

Many of the CEOs were worried that the federal government is projecting an $85-billion deficit by the spring of 2013. “My concern is that it is much easier for government to start spending than it is for it to stop spending,” wrote one. But another had faith Harper can handle a deficit. “If we have to have a deficit, I’m just as happy that it is at the hands of someone who is fundamentally opposed to it, and, hopefully, can be trusted to get rid of it at the earliest opportunity,” wrote the CEO.

A few respondents also would have liked to see more changes to employment insurance. “An increase in benefits per week, and less disparity between regions as to the number of weeks someone can collect benefits,” wrote one. “In addition, I would have liked to see the job-sharing program reintroduced. This would help us retain staff through the downturn and spreads the hardship among all employees rather than just a few being laid off.”