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Majority of Canadians back auto bailout: poll

By BRUCE CHEADLE, Globe and Mail
December 26, 2008

OTTAWA — A majority of Canadians are comfortable with billions of dollars in government loans for the ailing auto industry, a new poll suggests.

The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey found that 56 per cent of respondents supported the notion of “proportional, repayable loans,” while 33 per cent were opposed.

Ontario, the heart of Canada's auto sector, showed the most support, with 62 per cent in favour of the bailout and just 28 per cent opposed.

The federal and Ontario governments announced on Dec. 21 they'll provide $4-billion in loans to General Motors and Chrysler. Ottawa is contributing $2.7-billion and Queen's Park will kick in $1.3- billion.

The aid package represents about 20 per cent of a similar loan program announced in Washington for the two American automakers.

While the bailout comes in the form of loans that are to be repaid, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the public money is “obviously” at risk and more government funding for the auto industry may still be needed.

Taxpayer support for car-makers has divided Canadian public opinion, according to pollster Jeff Walker of Harris-Decima.

But by the time of the government announcement late this month, a plurality of respondents backed the deal in all regions of the country.

Support was strong in Atlantic Canada, where 60 per cent backed the loans and just 30 per cent were opposed.

But public opinion was more narrowly split elsewhere.

A majority of those surveyed in Alberta (52-35) and Manitoba and Saskatchewan (48-42) backed the loans, while British Columbians narrowly favoured the loans 44-41 — well within the poll's margin of error.

“Although the issue of government bailing out auto companies has divided Canadians over the past few weeks, there now appears to be a broadly held willingness to accept the idea of a government extension of credit to these firms,” said Mr. Walker.

The senior vice-president of Harris-Decima said Canadians may have concluded the industry is simply too important to let go bankrupt, or may be comforted by the fact the public bailout is in the form of repayable loans.

“The bottom line is that this form of support to the auto sector appears to be seen as palatable,” said Mr. Walker.

The government loan announcement last Saturday came the same day that Harris-Decima concluded four days of polling that surveyed just more than 1,000 respondents.

The national poll's margin of error is 3.1 percentage points, 19 times in 20, but regional margins of error are wider.

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