One In Four (24%) Atlantic Canadians Would Be ‘Very Likely’ To Change Their Vote....

..if the Party they Currently Support Fails to Present a Plan for the Future of Health Care

Atlantic Canadians Say Healthcare (39%) Trumps Economy and Jobs (24%), Debt Reduction (14%), Education (12%) and the Environment (7%) as Top Issue for Federal Election

With Canada plunged into its fourth election campaign in seven years, a new Ipsos Reid poll conducted on behalf of the Canadian Medical Association reveals that nearly four in ten (39%) Atlantic Canadians believe that healthcare is the issue that they would most like the party leaders to address, significantly higher than the proportion who say that jobs and economic growth (24%), debt and deficit reduction (14%), education (12%) and the environment (7%) are the issues they most want to hear about.

To this point, substantive debate about healthcare policy has largely been missing from the campaign, but a plurality of residents from each of the Atlantic Canadian provinces: NL (48%), PEI (41%), NS (38%) and NB (33%) say this is the issue that they most want addressed. Further, healthcare is in first position among supporters for three of the major federal parties, including the NDP (49%), Liberals (39%), and Conservatives (38%).

In fact, the perceived importance of healthcare appears to have a fundamental impact on the way that Atlantic Canadians intend to vote on May 2nd. One in four (24%) say that they’d be ‘very likely’ to vote for another party if the one they currently support fails to present a plan for the future of healthcare, a proportion high enough to have a major impact on the final results of Election Day.

Each of the parties appears to be vulnerable on this front, with a significant proportion of supporters of the NDP (33%), Green Party (25%), Liberals (19%), and Conservatives (18%) saying they’d be very likely to defect if their party doesn’t provide their plan for the future of healthcare in Canada.

Most (85%) Atlantic Canadians believe that ‘the federal government’s role as custodian of the Canada Health Act – which ensures that Canadians, no matter where they live or their ability to pay, can get medical treatment’ – is ‘very important’. It’s not surprising, then, that eight in ten (79%) believe it is ‘very important’ that, during the campaign, ‘leaders of the federal parties present their plan to ensure that Canadians have a sustainable health care system that meets patient needs’.

In a similar vein, eight in ten (79%) think it’s ‘very important’ that, in the context of a federal election, ‘each of the party leaders is willing to address the health challenges facing Canadians’.

In 2004 the federal and provincial governments agreed on a health care accord that determined how much the federal government would contribute to the provincial health care systems. This agreement is set to expire in 2014.

While Atlantic Canadians acknowledge that a federal role in healthcare is key, they’re less convinced about the immediate need for a federal-provincial conference immediately following the election. Still, six in ten (60%) ‘strongly agree’ that ‘it is important that the national parties commit to bringing provincial and territorial premiers together with the next Prime Minister, immediately after the election, to renegotiate the Health Accord that expires in three years’.

Looking to the future, various policy initiatives were presented to Canadians to gauge their opinion on the degree to which these initiatives was important:

* Eight in ten (77%) Atlantic Canadians believe it’s ‘very important’ to have a program that will ‘ensure that all Canadians have reasonable access to prescription drugs based on their need, not their ability to pay’.
* Seven in ten (70%) think it’s ‘very important’ to have a ‘long-term care program and facilities for patients who need the assistance and support of a healthcare professional outside of a hospital or their home.
* Slightly fewer (66%) Atlantic Canadians think it’s ‘very important’ to have a ‘home care program that would allow patients to go back to their homes with the assistance of their family or friends’.

But time and resources are not infinite. When forced to choose from among these initiatives, almost half (46%) believe that a program that ensures universal access to prescription drugs is the most important (57% among those aged 18 to 34), while one in three (32%) believe the home-care initiative is most important (40% of those aged 55+).

Finally, two in ten (21%) believe the long-term care initiative is most important from among the three, including 28% of those who don’t have a high-school diploma who think it’s the most important.

These are the findings of an Ipsos Reid poll conducted on behalf of the Canadian Medical Association from March 29-31, 2011. For the survey, a representative randomly-selected sample of 1,200 adult Atlantic Canadians was interviewed by telephone.

With a sample of this size, the results are considered accurate to within ± 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what they would have been had the entire adult population of Atlantic Canada been polled. The margin of error will be larger within regions and for other sub-groupings of the survey population.

These data were weighted to ensure that the sample's regional and age/sex composition reflects that of the actual Atlantic Canadian population according to Census data. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.