The Federal Budget and Public Service Cuts


Abacus Poll: Two thirds of Canadians say balancing the federal budget is a high priority
Most Canadians support cutting jobs in the federal bureaucracy but worry about their impact on government services and the economy.

A new survey from Ottawa-based Abacus Data that most Canadians (65%) believe balancing the budget and reducing the federal deficit should be a very high or high priority for the federal government.  And while there is less consensus on how the budget should be balanced (cuts versus tax increases) most Canadians prefer a method that leans more towards spending cuts as opposed to tax increases.

When told that the federal government is considering cutting thousands of jobs in the federal public service, six in ten respondents (61%) said they support the plan while 18% said they were opposed.  Another 21% neither supported nor opposed the cuts.  Support for cutting jobs in the public service was highest among Conservative Party supporters (73%_ and lowest among Liberal Party supporters (53%).

Despite majority support for job cuts in the federal bureaucracy, most Canadians said they would be concerned about the impact of those cuts on government services and the economy in general.  When asked what would most concern them about the cuts to the public service, 41% identified their impact on government services while 30% pointed to their potential impact on the economy.  Another 22% said they were not at all concerned about the impact of the cuts.

When presented with two arguments about public service cuts put forward by the unions representing federal public servants and the federal government, 47% sided with the federal government while 27% sided with the unions.  Twenty-seven percent said neither statement came closest to their view.

The rotated arguments presented to the respondents were:

1. The unions representing federal public servants have argued that job cuts in the public service will harm have major negative impacts on government services and will reduce household income and consumer spending hurting businesses and the economy.   

2. The federal government argues that the federal budget deficit must be reduced without raising taxes which would hurt the economy.  Cuts to the federal public service are necessary if the budget is going to be balanced.

The results above are not surprising when we consider how public servants are perceived by most Canadians.  When asked whether the compensation paid to those working in the federal public service is too high, about right, or too low when compared with private sector employees, 57% of respondents said their compensation was too high while 27% said it was about right.

Additionally, 58% of respondents considered federal public servants to be less productive than private sector employees while 32% said their productivity were about the same.  Nine percent of respondents believed that federal public servants were more productive than private sector employees.

The Bottom Line

A strong majority of Canadians want a balanced budget and support reductions in the size of the federal public service.  But concerns about the impact of job cuts to government services and the economy will need to be addressed by the government if they move ahead with an aggressive reduction in federal spending.

Download detailed tables.

The survey was conducted online with 1,209 respondents in English and French using an internet survey platform. A random sample of panelists was invited to participate in the survey from a larger internet representative panel of 150,000 Canadians.  The survey was completed from January 31 to February 2, 2012.

Steps were taken to ensure that the survey respondents were representative of the population over 18 years of age.  The sample distribution was balanced to match the distribution of actual census data for age, gender, education, and province.  Moreover, statistical weighting was applied to the data after the completion of the survey for age, gender, education, region, and previous federal vote.

Since the online survey was not a random, probability based sample, a margin of error could not be calculated. The margin of error for a survey of 1,209 respondents using a probability sample is +/- 2.8%, 19 times out of 20.

These questions were posed as part of the Abacus Data monthly omnibus survey.

For more information about the survey findings, please contact Dr. David Coletto, CEO Abacus Data Inc. at (613) 884-4730 or

The table below reports the unweighted and weighted distribution by region or province.


Unweighted Count
(All Respondents)

Weighted Count
(All respondents)

Atlantic Canada









Prairies (MB and SK)