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COVID-19 ‘Surcharges’ Opposed by Majority of Canadians Polled

A recent survey in British Columbia suggests most residents are opposed to COVID-19 surcharges in the economic aftermath of the pandemic.

The survey, by Insights West, found that 62 percent are opposed but also 75 percent think things will cost more overall as the economy opens up.

Insights West is a full-service marketing research firm based in Vancouver.

Steve Mossop, President of Insights West, said consumer sentiment in BC has shifted to hyper-localization and support of businesses that are part of the local economy.

“Small and medium-sized businesses have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, putting them front and centre in the media spotlight. And while consumers are not willing to pay for COVID-19 specific surcharges, there is an overall expectation that things will cost more, and there seems to be a willingness to accept this,” he said.

“I was quite surprised (but the survey findings). I really thought there would be support because all along we’ve seen support in previous polls that we’ve done about supporting your local businesses, BC businesses, neighbourhood businesses.

“We have to expect higher prices, that’s the reality. But I think what happened is we have opposition to the label ‘surcharge’. I think maybe that’s it. It’s the labelling. If you think back to our conditioning as consumers back to not that long ago when fuel was going sky high and airplane surcharges on plane tickets and BC ferries and different other transporting industries, there was a huge backlash and people just wouldn’t accept it. The mistake that airlines made is they labelled it and made people think about it and look at it. Maybe the lesson learned here is they should have just raised their prices. These things cost money.”

Mossop said there’s also a misperception of the word surcharge. People were calling it a tax. And we all know how people these days associate with that word.

Here are some of the key highlights according to the survey:

  • 37 percent of British Columbians are ‘strongly opposed’ to surcharges and 25 percent are ‘somewhat opposed’. Younger residents (18-34 years) are less opposed (52 percent) than older residents (63 percent among those 35-54 and 65 percent among those 55+);

  • Opposition lessens depending on the sector in question, however, as some industries appear to be seen as more justified in putting these surcharges in place. Hair salons are at the top of the list, with a slim majority (51 percent) within the province supporting surcharges, with support for restaurants (47 percent) and other small businesses (46 percent) not far behind;

  • While a large minority is also sympathetic to the concept of surcharges for other personal health service providers (44 percent), and other service providers (42 percent), opposition is firmly entrenched when it comes to large chain retailers (only 20 per cent support and 75 percent oppose) doing the same thing;

  • Younger residents (18-34) are much more supportive than older residents for these surcharges when it comes to hair salons, restaurants and other small, non-chain retailers, as support levels are 10-20 points higher, perhaps because this segment is far more likely to be employed in these sectors and a higher level of empathy exists;

  • 75 percent believe that once the Canadian and local economy opens up more fully we can expect higher inflation. This belief is split between 33 percent who expect ‘a lot higher inflation’, and 42 percent who feel there will be ‘a little higher inflation’. Only five percent believe we will enter into a post-pandemic era of deflation;

  • 64 percent agree that ‘we will have to accept that we will have to pay more in the future for many products and services’, including 17 percent who ‘agree strongly’, and 47 percent who ‘agree somewhat’;

  • There is strong agreement about actively trying to buy from businesses that form part of the local neighbourhood (79 percent), BC businesses (81 percent) and Canadian businesses (82 percent); and

  • There is also a strong desire to avoid businesses who have reportedly been unfair to their employees as part of the response to the pandemic, as 63 percent of BC residents agree with this.

Mossop said the surcharge could be here to stay for a long time especially with concerns about a possible second wave of the coronavirus.

So there’s, as there is, more emphasis placed on health and safety such as face masks and sanitizing “those have a cost to them,” he said.

And of course businesses will pass those costs along to consumers.

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He now works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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