Canadians want pot tax revenue to fund health care, not anti-drug campaigns

Canadians would prefer to see millions of dollars in tax revenue from legal marijuana go toward improving health care across the country, a new survey reveals, and not toward education campaigns about the drug.

The results of the government-commissioned polling were published on Thursday, with Ottawa paying just over $161,000 to take the public’s temperature on a broad range of economic issues from late December 2017 to late January 2018.

When it came to marijuana, participants were asked to rank, in order of preference, how they would like the government to allocate pot tax revenues. They were given six options:

  • Give the money to provinces through transfers that fund health care
  • More job skills training or retraining
  • More public education about the effects of marijuana
  • Reduce the deficit
  • Cut taxes for people in the lowest tax bracket
  • Give money to municipalities for their needs

Health care funding easily ranked highest in focus groups, followed by moderate support for job training, cutting taxes and giving cash to municipalities.

“There was very little support for using this tax revenue to reduce the deficit or to fund public education about the effects of cannabis,” the final report, prepared by Environics Research, noted.

Respondents also suggested some other options, the report adds, like funding rehabilitation and addiction programs.

The findings run somewhat contrary to Ottawa’s plans, which were solidified in the last federal budget. The federal government will keep one quarter of the revenue from the marijuana excise tax (up to $100 million a year) and the provinces will get the rest.

It’s expected that legal weed will be taxed at $1 per gram, or 10 per cent of a product’s price, whichever is higher.

The federal government has said it’s likely the provinces will transfer most of their share to municipalities. Ottawa has also promised that it will use some of its share to fund the least popular option in the survey: a public education campaign about the risks of marijuana use.

‘Feminism’ still a dirty word

Environics, which conducted 10 focus groups across the country and then a telephone survey of over 2,000 Canadians, also asked respondents about the government’s focus on gender equality and feminism in its economic planning.

In the focus groups, participants agreed that this might be “well-intentioned,” but some felt it may just be “a communications exercise.”

“When the concept of a ‘feminist budget’ or a ‘budget focused on women and girls’ was explored in Winnipeg and Vancouver, reaction to the ‘feminist budget’ terminology was quite negative,” the report states.

Similarly, during the phone survey portion, participants were asked about the top themes the government must consider when drafting a budget. A full 67 per cent rated gender equality as important, while “helping women and girls” was favoured by 80 per cent. But only 53 per cent said the government should consider “feminism” in its budget decisions.

“The language used to describe this issue matters a great deal,” Environics concludes. “‘Feminism’ has acquired negative connotations and may be felt to be confrontational, or putting women above men as opposed to on an equal footing.”

What small business tax changes?

The survey also touched on several hot-button economic issues from the past year, like the federal deficit and controversial changes to the taxation of small businesses.

The Opposition Conservatives have focused heavily on both, but the results show they barely registered with average people.

Awareness of so-called income sprinkling by small business owners “was very low and was often confused with income splitting,” for example, and “there was no awareness of ‘passive income investing’ and the explanation was difficult to understand.”

Most people knew that the federal government is running a deficit, the report states, but it “was not a major concern for most participants.” Some expressed concern that it could spiral out of control if left unchecked, however, and affect future generations.

“While participants would like to see the deficit decrease, or at least stabilize, some agreed it was unrealistic to balance the budget right away.”

While all this might seem encouraging for the Trudeau government, it definitely wasn’t all good news.

In spite of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s oft-repeated lines about helping the middle class (and those working hard to join it), many Canadians in the focus groups still felt that, at the household level, they face a high and rising cost of living and growing household debt.

“Participants also felt that, despite the help government has provided to young families (such as through increases in the Canada Child Benefit), the middle class was not getting any better, and lower income households were falling further behind.”