PHOTOS: Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. Below: Pollster Quito Maggi of Mainstreet Research, grabbed from his Twitter account, and former PC premier Ed Stelmach, whose personal popularity held through the economic downturn of 2007 and 2008.

Late last week, the Calgary Herald reported the results of a poll that indicated Alberta’s NDP government has “plummeted” to third place among the province’s major political parties and that Premier Rachel Notley’s personal approval levels have also “plunged.”

Notwithstanding the colourful language used by the news story’s author, possibly a reflection of his employer’s ongoing efforts to direct public opinion in Alberta, the horserace numbers provided by the Mainstreet Research poll for Postmedia’s Calgary newsroom seemed quite plausible.

Mainstreet’s demon-dialer poll of 3,092 Albertan residents on one day, Feb. 3, requires all the usual caveats about this type of technology and methodology, including the one about how it tends to skew toward older, more conservative voters who sit at home waiting for their land-line telephones to ring and give them something to do.

Nevertheless, it believably indicated a fairly close three-way race among decided voters with the Wildrose Opposition at 33 per cent province-wide, the Progressive Conservatives at 31 per cent and the New Democrats at 27 per cent.

Unsurprisingly, that broke out rather differently by region with the Wildrose leading the PCs in rural ridings and narrowly in Calgary, and the New Democrats continuing to lead strongly in Edmonton.

Meanwhile, according to the Toronto-based polling company that came up with these numbers, Ms. Notley’s own approval ratings have fallen to 36 per cent province wide – 44 per cent in Edmonton, 22 per cent in Calgary and 17 per cent in the rest of the province, which is the way we usually divide up the geography around here.

Mainstreet also identified a significant stream of support back to the PCs, presumably among centre-right voters, plenty of whom supported Ms. Notley’s NDP last May. It reported an increase of more than 10 per cent in support for the PCs during a period when the party’s legislative caucus under interim Leader Ric McIver said and did very little.

This is a number that ought to worry both the New Democrats, who presumably don’t want just to be a one-term government, and the Wildrosers led by Opposition Leader Brian Jean, who still hold onto the fading hope they can stampede the Tories into a hostile reverse takeover under the banner of an urgent need to unite the right.

As for the once-powerful Tories, now fallen on hard times, this may persuade them to think extra carefully before they jump into bed with the Wildrose Party, which hopes to do to them exactly what the Reform-Alliance party did to the federal PCs when those two parties found themselves in a similar sleeping arrangement back in 2003.

As noted, despite grounds for quibbles, these latest Alberta results will hardly strain the credulity of anyone who stays reasonably in touch with the mood of Albertans.

Mainstreet President Quito Maggi’s explanation for them, however, is harder to swallow, and I daresay reflects the thoughts of someone who lacks a local’s take on what makes Albertans tick.

The way Mr. Maggi sees it, according to the Herald’s report and his own news release, it’s all about historically low oil prices and the generally lacklustre state of the economy here in Alberta. “Even though the premier doesn’t set the price of oil, she’s the one in power,” he said in his release. “She just happens to be in the right place at the wrong time.”

But there’s really nothing in the data Mainstreet provided that suggests most Albertans blame Ms. Notley for the general state of the economy, which people in this province understand better than most is driven by factors outside any local political leader’s control.

Mr. Maggi is certainly entitled to his opinion, of course, but, historically, Albertans have been disinclined to punish their political leaders too severely when the economic going got tough. Consider PC premier Ed Stelmach, who remained personally popular through the lowest ebb of the last global downturn in the mid-zeroes.

So if the poll is accurate and Albertans are losing faith in Ms. Notley, it’s unlikely because they blame her personally for low oil prices. More likely, they’re starting to worry she hasn’t grasped the gravity of the current situation, and, as a result, their confidence in her to deal with it is faltering accordingly.

This is both good news and bad news for the government. It’s not good for them that it’s happening, but it does mean doing something about it is not out of their hands if oil prices remain depressed.

But the NDP’s strategic brain trust is going to have to find a way to deal with this perception if they expect to turn things around before the next election, presumably in 2019. To do that, they may themselves have to think about how much they trust their instincts and how much they listen to their own non-Albertan experts, who may misunderstand how we think here just as some pollsters do.

Additional potential good news in this for the NDP – other than the thought they could always have fallen further, faster – may be that the poll suggests Albertans generally approved of their decision, controversial among traditional NDP supporters, not to muck with the generous royalty arrangements enjoyed by the province’s oil and gas companies.

Of course, the majority of those who backed the NDP’s post-royalty-review support for the status quo are likely to be Wildrose and PC supporters – and the drop in NDP support and confidence in Ms. Notley herself may include traditional NDP supporters disillusioned with the review process. Still, under the circumstances, this particular number is probably a positive for the NDP.

Of course, it also wouldn’t hurt if something happened to bring oil prices back a little faster than most forecasters are predicting right now, because there’s nothing like the arrival of a lot of cash just before closing time to make a government look good!

Meanwhile, we’re probably all doomed to hear from more folks who aren’t from around here telling us why we think the way they think we think.

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  1. With a bit over three years before the next election, this is a bit of a non-story. IMHO the NDP have been a bit timid. In a 4-year majority mandate, the government has two, maybe two & a half, years to make bold decisions before risking the wrath of short-memoried voters. It’s the polling in the final 18 months of a mandate that really tells the tale.

    1. As usual, I agree with Jerry. Still, this is the first such poll with the better (or at least the larger) part of the government’s first year in power now past, a time when MLAs should have figured out where the washrooms are, so it is a significant story nevertheless. The language used by the Sun-Herald reporter also illustrates the narrative that the MSM, particularly the openly partisan Postmedia corporation, will try to create: plunging polls, plummeting popularity, doomed Dippers. It’s the flipside of the “upstart” Wildrose Party, Alberta’s plucky little political sweetheart, soaring in the polls. Anyone remember that one?

      1. While I want to agree with both of you I am feeling very pessimistic about the whole thing. The NDP came in with the idea that it would make changes but it seems like the party just isn’t interested in doing that. The worst part for me is that I’ve hoped for years that my province would elect a strong government for ordinary people and it feels like the NDP is crushing that hoping just as it’s been ignited.

  2. If the Prentice government had been returned and implemented its budget, or the Wildrosers were in power, I highly doubt that Albertans would be happy with their government. Would Alberta be receiving so much infrastructure money from Ottawa? It will be interesting to see poll numbers once the promised infrastructure money is put to use and the economy is on the upswing. I have always wondered who is being polled. Having lived in Edmonton with a landline for 45 years and someone available to answer the phone, this number has never been included in a poll.

  3. My only thought is that there are 3 political arena’s in Alberta, Calgary, Edmonton and rural. This poll backs that up with the Wildrose most popular in the country,the PC’s still popular in Calgary and the NDP back to their traditional stronghold in Edmonton. It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out in 3 years.

  4. I don’t know if the Wildrose party should be happy with these results or not. Yes, the poll shows them in first place by a bit. They have done so well in various polls over the last 6 or 7 years, but when it comes to election time their good numbers disappear. It leads me to wonder if there is some systemic error or bias in the polling (especially by pollsters not familiar with the intricacies of Alberta politics) that has not yet been realized or taken into account by those pollsters.

    The PC’s must be ecstatic, they now have a new slogan for the next election – “we’re not dead yet!” Perhaps the PC brand is stronger in Alberta than people realized. Maybe voters are comfortable with a slightly right leaning party as long as it doesn’t get too kooky.

    The NDP has a challenge. I suspect the biggest problem is the economy. When people are out of work or think they might lose their jobs, they blame the government regardless. Of course, there is no election for several years, so if the economy recovers and the NDP governs competently, the crankiness and fear may dissipate.

  5. As mentioned further up and based on the news today ( why oh why oh why is it that every time the government encounters headwind they fold.

    Has it not occurred to anyone in the NDP, that maybe just maybe, they were elected because the urban population desired change. Ms. Notley might just be surprised as to what may happen. Have some courage.

    However at the current rate I will select all check boxes during the next election with a note that someone can figure it out for me (same as I did when Ms. Redford ran on her so called “progressive” agenda).

    1. I completely agree with you. I am so dismayed by how the NDP is acting. They were voted in to change things not act like the PCs. Yet every time they get a minor complaint from the right wingers in the province they bow to them. I can only conclude the NDP has hired the PCs’ advisors since they aren’t acting like the NDP that campaigned on progressive platforms that put ordinary people first.

      1. It doesn’t help that Miss Notley’s chief-of-staff (Brian Topp) lives in Toronto and only spends one-half to two-thirds of his time in Alberta. I don’t know if her second-in-command adviser, Anne McGrath (2015 federal NDP campaign chair, ahem), has moved back to Alberta yet, although the expertise she demonstrated during the federal election may lead to some questions on her suitability for the job.

        Notley should look closer to home for some guidance. She needs the help of someone who is wise, experienced and trusted in local left-wing circles. Maybe a certain blogger….

  6. At this rate Notley may have better luck running for President of the US in 2020 than winning relection in Alberta, the way the youngsters are flocking behind the openely socialist Bernie Sanders campaign these days

  7. Yes! Notely and the NDP are a collection of feeble weaklings who have betrayed their base and the majority of Albertans who voted for what they hoped the NDP stood for.

    Looks like the ballot box is a waste of time. Notley and crew are more dangerous to democracy than ISIS can ever be – look for more people turning their backs on the sytem itself.

  8. I am not a hopeless optimist, but neither am I a pessimist either. I like to think I am more of a pragmatist and a realist. I wouldn’t defend the NDP no matter what. However, I do believe that we should reserve judgment at this time, because they have a few years left.

    As any reader who has ever raised teenagers will attest, they could surprise us yet.

    Be assured that if the NDP completely fail to live up to expectations at or near the end of their mandate, I will be the first to despair and condemn them. The reality is that it is just too soon to do so.

    At times like this we should all try and imagine how much worse the landscape would be if the WRP or the Cons were running the place. If you think the NDP aren’t living up to your expectations, I shudder to think what how the alternative would be create a living hell.

    1. This sounds like the argument that was often made by P. Martin type Liberals: vote for us or you will get the other guys who are even worse! Looks like Harper proved that one correct.

      * sigh *

  9. Klein erased the debt with $20 oil for a decade. The government royally blew the whole thing for the entire 21st century. But it’s patently false to say 44 years yadda yadda bs. The province finances were ruined by red Tories (aka liberals) under the Stelmach+ years. Crazy raises for the public service, rampant spending, no savings and no infrastructure spending. If you want to know how to get out of this mess look at Klein. Austerity, shrink the public sector, rollbacks. Pain. Some teachers lose their jobs and we all pay with huge class sizes, long waits at the hospital and general poor service. Sacrifice… Just like the 100,000 oil and gas workers who are out of jobs. This is reality and nobody
    wants to face it.

    The whole diversify the economy thing is bogus… Great in theory but this is a long term issue (decades). Also sorry to say but Alberta just isn’t all that great to live without high wages and lots of jobs. Without jobs people will leave. This is reality.

    1. The better and less painful alternative is a real social-democratic method. Increase corporate taxes to make them more efficient and plump up revenues. Impose a quota system on existing pipelines to allow smaller producing companies fair access to market (Koch Bros squeal here) and if the corps leave, form a crown corp to take over their stranded assets.

      Bring all government services back in house, and yes, impose wage controls on the govt service sector workers in return for real job security, unlike the Klein betrayals.

      BTW, they were not Red Tories, they were stupid Tories, a more common species.

      1. This is a silly approach. We need not look further than Ontario to see what Crown Corps (like the former Ontario Hydro) do to the public purse. The reality is that private investment, the jobs private investment create and the taxes paid by those investors and those who work for those investors build wealth for the public. That public wealth pays for Doctors, hospital beds, highways, police officers, and all sorts of things in the publice interest. Private investment also better rationalizes $$$ because they invest on an economic basis rather than the latest political flavour of the day. This appears to be something Alberta’s inexperienced NDP government has yet to understand.
        I fear we will actually see real tax revenues shrink in Alberta, even after accounting for the decline in oil prices, all as a result of the chill that the NDP’s policies have on investment confidence. Also the NDP do not seem to understand the importance of small business and have not done small business any favours.
        Also in terms of the comment re making corporates more efficient it might be interesting if the government lead that charge by publishing metrics demonstrating just how efficient our governemnt departs are (or are not) and comparing those to private sector metrics. The reality is REAL job security only comes from being competitive otherwise the enterprise, even if it’s the governemnt, is circling the drain

    2. Ralph Klein didn’t get Alberta out of debt. It is a common and widespread myth that he did so. Don Getty was the first of a bunch of Alberta Tory premiers who was mired in corruption and very costly scandals. Ralph Klein carried on with being corrupt. He loved being involved with big businesses and we wound up paying for his multitude of mistakes. What did he do with Swan Hills, the Ghermezians/WestEdmonton Mall, Miller West Pulp Mill, the BSE bailout, electricity deregulation, and so on? What did he do to the Heritage Savings Trust Fund? He was one of several Alberta Tory premiers who virtually depleted it. Ralph Klein didn’t maintain infastructure either. So, he did not get Alberta out of debt. Ralph Klein was a failure. Most of the Alberta Tory premiers were failures. The first Alberta Tory premier wasn’t a failure.

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