The CEO Poll: Mind your own business

Canadian business leaders on the global financial crisis.

Business leaders give the federal mini-budget high marks.

Governments around the world are spending hundreds of billions of dollars to save their respective economies from ruin. But Canadian governments have little power to influence the effect of world economic events on domestic businesses, according to a web poll of 137 business leaders conducted by COMPAS Inc.

Nearly two-thirds of the respondents said Canadian governments have enough power to “slightly” moderate the impact of global financial woes on businesses, while 14% said governments lack the power to lessen the impact altogether.

Nevertheless, the panel awarded Prime Minister Stephen Harper high grades for his response to the global economic crisis so far. Asked to give a score out of 100 to each point of Harper’s six-step response, the panelists’ consensus grades ranged from 68 for convening a meeting with the premiers and territorial leaders to discuss a joint approach to the crisis, to a 75 for vowing to keep government spending under control and continuing a four-year review of departmental spending.

Some CEOs offered their own suggestions for how to bolster the Canadian economy. “Invest in infrastructure, rebuild the railroads, and [support] green technologies to stimulate the economy,” wrote one respondent. Another suggested increasing support to small businesses, such as helping to ensure that such companies can access bank loans.

The panelists were also asked what they think is the cause of the potential recession Canada is facing. Few said the slowdown has to do with the Canadian financial sector’s exposure to toxic investments. In fact, some of the respondents viewed the banking sector as a relative bright spot compared to those in other countries. “[Harper] should be doing everything to broadcast the strength of the Canadian banking system compared to the U.S. system,” wrote one CEO.

Most of the respondents believe global economic problems will hit our export sector, dragging the Canadian economy down. One CEO suggested a fix: “As we should have done long ago, start diversifying our export portfolio to not only the United States.”