The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Canadians feel Tories doing a 'fair' job managing the books, poll suggests

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OTTAWA - A new poll suggests most Canadians feel Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government is doing at least a fair job of minding the country's purse strings.

In the Canadian Press-Harris Decima survey, 40 per cent of Canadians polled said the government is doing a fair job of managing finances.

More than a quarter rated the Tory performance as good or very good, compared to almost three-in-10 people who feel the Conservatives have done a poor or very poor job.

The poll results come as the Conservatives are set to unveil a budget that includes deep spending cuts and government streamlining.

The poll suggests that while most Canadians realize the government is running a deficit and want a return to surplus, few feel the books should be balanced immediately.

The survey of just over 1,000 people was carried out between March 22 and 25 and has a margin of error of 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

"In advance of the federal budget, the public atmosphere appears to be fairly benign. Canadians have maintained a neutral to positive assessment of the handling of the country's finances," said Doug Anderson of Harris Decima.

"They are looking for the deficit to be tackled, but tackled over a number of years. One challenge for the government at this point is that while Canadians claim to want spending reduced overall, they simultaneously will identify a number of policy areas where they would prefer spending be increased."

Areas where most of those polled feel spending should be increased include provincial health-care transfers, protecting the environment and infrastructure upgrades.

The budget is expected to contain changes to everything from the way major resource projects are assessed to how immigrants are selected.

It will also change the way research and development is funded and the eligibility age for certain pension benefits.

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