Recession fears linger: poll

OTTAWA — The official data shows Canada has long recovered from the recession.

OTTAWA — The official data shows Canada has long recovered from the recession.

Canadians don’t appear convinced.

A new Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey has 59 per cent of respondents saying we’re still in a recession that Statistics Canada declared dead over a year ago.

Not only did they believe the country remains in a slump, but about half of those who thought so believe the slowdown will last for at least another year.

The survey of 1,016 Canadians was conducted Feb. 24-27 and is considered accurate within plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times in 20.

The result may seem strange given that the economy has been growing since mid-2009 and jobs losses from the recession stopped in July of that year.

Canada’s economy has expanded beyond where it was before the recession struck in October 2008 and 467,000 new jobs have been added — about 40,000 more than were lost during the downturn.

That does not mean the country’s economy is as healthy as it was before the downturn.

The official unemployment rate of 7.8 per cent is almost two points higher than the pre-slump low.

The Bank of Canada has also determined there is still plenty of slack in the country’s production capacity.

The recession officially ended as soon as the economy stopped contracting. It grew by 3.1 per cent last year.

Harris-Decima pollster Doug Anderson says the discrepancy may simply be that Canadians experience the economy in personal terms rather than as a set of official data.

“The way people respond isn’t necessarily based on the facts experts would use,” he said.

“When it comes to economic outlook, it’s an emotional question. Are my prospects actually good or am I kidding myself?”

He also noted that the polling numbers showed an improvement in perceptions from when the question was asked last year. Last February, 19 per cent said the economy had recovered from recession, whereas this February that number was up to 36 per cent.

The finding is not necessarily bad news for the Harper government, which generally scores high marks for economic management, he said.

The latest survey suggests three-in-four Canadians believe Ottawa’s stimulus spending has been very effective or somewhat effective in improving the economy.

And 44 per cent of respondents said the government should continue with stimulus to try to create jobs, although a majority — 51 per cent — wanted Ottawa to focus on controlling spending and eliminating the deficit.

Canadians most likely to say the stimulus had been effective were also the most likely to support its continuation.

“I haven’t seen anything that said we got into the recession because of anything the government did, and they (Canadians) tend to say the steps taken, like the stimulus spending, were effective,” Anderson explained.

“If I was the government, I would find that encouraging.”

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has dismissed any notion of continuing with the two-year, $46-billion stimulus package once it expires at the end of this month.

Flaherty has said the March 22 budget for the upcoming fiscal year will contain no new big spending initiatives.

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