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Poll suggests Manitobans worried about costs, less confident in institutions

Manitoba
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Manitobans are increasingly worried about the cost of living and crime, and are becoming less confident in the justice system and public service, a poll commissioned by the provincial government suggests.

The Benchmark Survey, conducted by polling firm Leger, is normally conducted every few months and provides the government insight into the top concerns and desires of the public.

The online survey prepared in March was recently obtained by The Canadian Press under the province's freedom of information law.

The top source of concern among the poll's 800 respondents was the rising cost of items such as housing, food and gasoline, with 81 per cent saying they were worried -- up from 78 per cent and 71 per cent in two prior polls last year.

Wait times for health care was the second biggest worry at 71 per cent, which hadn't changed much, and crime and public safety was third at 66 per cent, up 11 points from a year earlier.

Financial concerns were common despite the province's low unemployment rate, which has hovered around five per cent, and relatively affordable housing. The average home price in May in Manitoba was $371, 224, compared to the national average of $699,117, recent data from the Canadian Real Estate Association shows.

More than half of the respondents were discouraged about Manitoba's economic outlook, and six in 10 were either discouraged or very uncertain about the outlook for their personal financial situation.

The poll was conducted between Feb. 21 and Feb. 27. A margin of error cannot be assigned because online polls are not considered to be truly random samples.

An economics expert said people have been hit on three fronts since the COVID-19 pandemic -- high inflation, a jump in interest rates and rising energy prices.

"Before the last couple of years, we had a pretty long period of time of relatively low or even falling inflation rates and extremely low interest rates," said Fletcher Baragar, an associate professor of economics at the University of Manitoba.

"There are grounds for some optimism going forward. But changes such as falling interest rates and falling inflation rates -- those are going to be gradual."

Recent Statistics Canada data said the overall inflation rate in Manitoba is low, due in part to the government's nine-month suspension of the provincial fuel tax that started Jan. 1, but the inflation rate for food purchased from stores has been running above the national average.

When asked what should be the government's top priority to make life more affordable, 14 per cent of poll respondents cited the fuel-tax holiday. Twice as many said the government should focus on making housing affordable.

The poll also suggests Manitobans are more wary about some public institutions. More than half said they were confident in police and the public service, but the numbers for both were down 10 points from a year earlier.

Fewer than half of respondents said they were confident in unions, provincial politicians, the justice system, courts and the media. Almost half said they do not trust the government to act in the best interest of the public.

Scoring highest for confidence were local businesses at 80 per cent, and local non-profits and charities at 71 per cent.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 7, 2024.

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