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Economy and crime trump Harper’s plans for military and Arctic, poll finds

Stephen Harper should think more about cementing a Canadian economic union and fighting crime and less about the military and the Arctic, according to a poll that ranks voter attitudes toward the government's agenda.

Nanos Research and the Institute for Research on Public Policy asked Canadians which they considered the most important of five issues that are listed on the Prime Minister's website as major priorities for the new majority government. Thirty three per cent of those surveyed identified "cracking down on gun, gang and drug crime" as the issue that mattered most to them.

Twenty-six per cent said "strengthening Canada's economic union" should be Job One. Almost as many, 22 per cent, believe "improving food and product safety regulations" is what the government should be paying most attention to.

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Only 8 per cent are most concerned with "asserting our sovereignty in the Arctic," and a mere 7 per cent believe "rebuilding the Canadian Armed Forces" should be top of the list.

"Priorities that were closer in proximity to the daily lives of Canadians were ranked higher than those that did not," pollster Nik Nanos observed.

The Conservative Party polled extensively before the spring election campaign to identify voter concerns, and it should come as no surprise that the two top issues for Canadians are also the two top priorities for the party in government.

To help break down provincial economic silos, the government has asked the Supreme Court to rule on whether the Ottawa has the constitutional authority to create a national securities regulator.

If the court approves, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has said he will proceed with the legislation despite intense opposition from some provinces, especially Quebec and Alberta, who argue it intrudes on their jurisdiction.

The government will also bring down an omnibus crime bill – essentially all the justice legislation the opposition parties blocked during the two minority governments – when Parliament returns in the autumn.

But lesser priorities for Canadians remain high priorities for the Conservatives, especially the military. The government intends to proceed with purchasing fighter aircraft to replace the aging fleet of CF-18s, and is also expected to announce which shipyards will win $35-billion in contracts over 20 years to build new coast guard and naval ships.

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The government also intends to proceed with a $720-million polar icebreaker, to help assert Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic, though it is not expected to ready before 2017.

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About the Author

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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