• 02/22/11 - - Canadians over age 55 most likely to agree with prison expenditures: Poll

    - - Canadians over age 55 most likely to agree with prison expenditures: Poll

    By Meagan Fitzpatrick, Postmedia News: A majority of Canadians support the Conservatives' costly prison expansion plan but think the government should be compelled to provide the estimated price tag for its entire law-and-order agenda, according to the results of a new poll.

    Fifty-seven per cent of those surveyed said the prison expansion program, estimated to cost at least $2 billion, is a worthwhile initiative, while 43 per cent said it is unaffordable. Those results will take some wind out of the sails of the opposition parties who argue that Canadians don't want bigger jails and the government is wasting money at a time when the country has a massive deficit.

    But when it comes to calling on the government to disclose all estimated costs for crime-related legislation, Canadians are clearly on the side of the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois. Eighty-two per cent said the government should be compelled to release the figures. Eighteen per cent said they should be kept secret if the government says they should be.

    The government and opposition parties have been locked in a battle over releasing cost estimates for justice bills, which combined, could reach into the billions of dollars.

    The poll of 1,097 Canadians was conducted Feb. 15 to 17 by Ipsos Reid for Postmedia News and Global National. It has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

    Crime and justice legislation is a high priority for Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government and because some of its legislation will keep convicted criminals in prison longer and add to the prisoner population, the government is investing millions of dollars in expanding penitentiaries.

    The opposition parties say the Tories are focused on the wrong priorities and instead, should be investing in health care, education, help for seniors and pension reform.

    While the poll results indicate a majority of Canadians support the prison plan, some Canadians are more in favour than others and the demographic trends are interesting to note, says Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Reid Public Affairs.

    "In spite of the rhetoric in the House of Commons and what people on the opposition side are saying about the government's justice agenda, you can see why they're on it," said Bricker. "Because the people who are most likely to vote for them — non-university-educated, older, male voters — think this is a dandy idea. So it's basically speaking to their core constituency in a very effective way."

    Canadians over age 55 were the most likely to agree the prison expenditures are worthwhile and Canadians aged 18 to 34 were the most likely to say they are unaffordable, according to the poll's results. Sixty-nine per cent of those surveyed who had less than a high school education said they supported the spending, compared to 53 per cent of those with a post-secondary education.

    Residents of Alberta, where the Conservative base is concentrated, were the most likely to support the expansions, with 73 per cent in favour of them. Fifty-one per cent of Atlantic Canadians supported them; 55 per cent in Ontario; 51 per cent in Quebec; 61 per cent in Saskatchewan and Manitoba; and 63 per cent in British Columbia.

    The poll results show the Conservatives have support for expanding prisons, but they certainly don't have it when it comes to keeping secret the estimated costs of their law-and-order agenda. The government says it will be spending $2 billion over five years to cover added costs to the corrections system, but that figure has been disputed by Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, who estimates at least $5 billion is needed. Those figures are in relation to just one piece of legislation, the Truth in Sentencing Act, which passed last year.

    The federal government has resisted releasing any other cost estimates associated with bills that have been proposed but not yet passed, and has given various explanations for keeping the figures private. In response to demands for information from the Commons finance committee, the government said the numbers were protected by cabinet confidence.

    Public Safety Minister Vic Toews also told a committee last week that numbers can be released only when the government is sure they're accurate. He also explained the withholding of figures by saying some would be included in next month's federal budget.

    The opposition parties filed a question of privilege motion to try to compel the government to hand over the figures.

    Last week, a couple of numbers trickled out: $647 million in total for five separate bills. The opposition parties said the government still hasn't come clean.

    Later this week, Page is expected to produce his own report in reaction to the numbers released by the government.


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