The CEO Poll: Ignatieff vs. Harper

Who do Canadian CEOs think is most capable on the issues that really matter: the prime minister or his would-be successor?

Business leaders give the federal mini-budget high marks.

The Liberal Party of Canada elected Michael Ignatieff as its leader in early May, which means Prime Minister Stephen Harper now has an official “official” foe in Parliament. While Ignatieff has merely hinted at what might be the main planks in his election platform, he chose the Liberal convention, which took place from April 30 to May 2 in Vancouver, as the place to launch his first concrete attack on Harper, pushing the issue of employment insurance reform front and centre. But is standardization of EI something the Canadian business leaders polled recently by COMPAS Inc. feel is most important to the country? Not by a long shot.

That honour went to Canada-U.S. trade relations, with 60% of CEOs giving it the top spot, followed closely by managing the economy until recovery from the global recession sets in (59%), and by making sure spending and taxation are kept under control once that recovery is underway (47%).

As for which leader would best handle the seven issues COMPAS asked business leaders about, Harper came out ahead on most points. “The good news for Harper,” COMPAS notes, “is that he is seen as outperforming his rival on five issues to two. The good news for Ignatieff is that he is seen as outperforming the prime minister on two issues that he appears to care much about.” Those two issues? EI reform and Ottawa’s relations with Quebec. But only 14% and 10%, respectively, of the CEOs polled believe those issues are “very important.”

Still, at least one chief executive points to the fact that the business community hasn’t seen enough from Ignatieff to meaningfully analyze how he might perform as prime minister. “It’s hard to have an opinion on whether Harper or Ignatieff would do better,” the CEO notes.”We’ve seen Harper in action but not Ignatieff, although I’m not sure he could do any worse.” Meanwhile, another business leader seems confident in both men: “Canada now has the choice of two fairly strong and sophisticated leaders who can take policy decisions and work them through the national and global environments.”