Most Canadians don't feel like the economy is doing better, poll finds

Data show a stronger economy, but Canadians say they are worse off in their day-to-day lives

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Despite forecasts for stronger-than-expected growth in early 2024, a majority of Canadians just don’t like where the economy is headed, according to the latest results of a long-running survey of households’ financial outlook.

Two-thirds of Canadians believe the economy is on the wrong track, Maru Public Opinion found in its March survey, with the negative view widely held across most regions of the country.

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Albertans were most concerned about the economy’s trajectory. Almost three-quarters said they viewed the economy negatively, a seven percentage point increase from February, followed closely by Ontarians at 70 per cent, a six-percentage-point jump. Just over two-thirds of Quebecers thought the economy was headed in the wrong direction as did 55 per cent of British Columbians.

The latest results also reveal that many Canadians don’t expect either the national economy (61 per cent) or their local economy (59 per cent) to improve over the next two months. Both results were up slightly from February.

“The findings reveal a public profoundly discouraged about the state of the national economy, burdened by acute personal financial pressures, and harbouring deepening insecurities about the economic trajectory for themselves personally and the nation,” said John Wright, executive vice-president of Maru, in a press release on Thursday. “Negative sentiment is pervasive across multiple dimensions, underscoring the formidable headwinds confronting both consumer confidence and the nation’s broader economic prospects.”

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That “negative sentiment” is washing over gross domestic product forecasting that continues to be upgraded by some of Canada’s largest financial and economic institutions.

The latest GDP numbers from Statistics Canada showed the economy expanded 0.6 per cent in January, beating estimates of 0.4 per cent. The data agency also included a flash estimate for February for growth of 0.4 per cent, which compelled some big bank economists to predict first-quarter GDP of 2.5 per cent. On Wednesday, the Bank of Canada raised its forecast for growth in its new Monetary Policy Report.

Maru’s finding show that the stronger economy isn’t being reflected in the day-to-day lives of a large number of consumers.

For example, a larger proportion of Canadians said their personal financial position deteriorated in March — 24 per cent, compared with 23 per cent in February. Those most likely to have reported a deterioration in their view of their financial position included people in Atlantic Canada and Ontario, women, the survey’s 18-34 age group, and those in the lowest income bracket earning less than $50,000.

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More than half of Canadians said their daily and family finances would pose an ongoing worry over the next two months. Further, 90 per cent said it was not very likely that they would a buy a house during the next 60 days.

“You swapped out rising inflation and substituted it with hockey-stick high interest rates. That doesn’t put people ahead, it keeps them where they were,” Wright said.

On the flip side, an increasing number of people in British Columbia and Alberta and those earning incomes of $50,000 to $99,000 said their personal had finances improved.

Given persistent negativity, there was nothing to put upward pressure on Maru’s Household Outlook Index, which remained unchanged at 87 and firmly in negative territory.

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Anything below 100 on the index — which measures Canadians’ outlook on the economy and their personal finances — indicates negative sentiment and anything above indicates optimism. It has been stuck in the red since December 2021 and hit its most pessimistic reading of 83 in March 2023.

Maru conducted the survey March 28 to 29 among a random selection of 1,532 Canadian adults.

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