Alberta right now: The state of the province, its parties, and its oil after 1 year without Stephen Harper

Posted on October 20, 2016, 1:10 am
8 mins

PHOTOS: Alberta Premier Rachel Notley addresses supporters for her “state of the province” speech in Calgary’s Jack Singer Concert Hall yesterday. (Photo from the Premier of Alberta’s Flickr account.) Below: Would-be Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney and current Wildrose Party Leader Brian Jean.

It was so busy in political Alberta yesterday those folks who were inclined to do so barely had time to celebrate the first anniversary of the defeat of the Harper Government by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in the 2015 federal election!

NDP Premier Rachel Notley gave her “state of the province” speech to a friendly, invited crowd in the lobby of the Jack Singer Concert Hall in Calgary, where she told Albertans that notwithstanding hard times, her government isn’t about to cut health care or education funding. But spending in other areas, it was pretty clear, will be constrained … Just how constrained remains to be seen.

kanney-l“We can handle the current dramatic drop in government revenue – for a time,” the premier said. “…That means we can protect health care and education … but that also means we are very unlikely to have headroom for major new spending proposals until recovery arrives.”

She defended the province’s carbon tax and the planned increases in the minimum wage – which at least in theory should give voters enough time to get used to them and forget their present concerns by the time another election rolls around.

Holding the event in Calgary’s concert hall instead of shuttling annually between annual bad lunches with the Chambers of Commerce in the province’s two largest cities ends a dreary tradition, hopefully forever, seemingly designed by generations of PC leaders to reinforce the impression voters who own businesses count more than the rest of us.

Meanwhile, world oil prices surged yesterday – the very thing the province’s conservatives of various stripes hope not to have to endure just now – on news that the Saudi Arabians were feeling upbeat. The price reached more than $53 US a barrel, the highest since the summer of 2015.

If that trend holds, it’s probably good news for the Notley Government and certainly good news for currently disgruntled and underemployed oil patch workers. We shall see. … Resource prices have been known to be volatile, which the key to understanding almost all of Alberta’s problems, no matter who happens to be in power.

Meanwhile, the NDP Government also announced another year of tuition freezes, which with any luck should shore up their student vote – if students get out to vote again in sufficient numbers to matter.

jean-lAnd then there was the reaction to that poll – the one the Calgary Herald on Tuesday called “shocking” and “a knockout.” If that sounded more like a theatre review to you, perhaps it should, as the numbers, which put the Progressive Conservatives far in the lead, were being used enthusiastically by Jason Kenney’s Postmedia fan club to make the dubious case their favoured PC leadership candidate “is bringing popularity to the PC party even as he suctions cash away from it.”

Well, maybe. There are some flaws with that line of reasoning, even if there’s nothing wrong with the poll – which until another survey says the same thing must remain an outlier.

Still, assuming the numbers are basically right, they cannot be reassuring for the New Democrats.

According to the telephone survey of 1,513 adult Albertans by the Citizen Society Research Lab at Lethbridge College, which was in the field from from Oct. 1 to 8, the PCs with 38.4 per cent support are 13 points ahead of the second-place Wildrose Party, at 25.7 per cent. The poll places the NDP is in third place with only 19.7 per cent province wide. It even shows the PCs leading in the Edmonton area, which is supposed to be an NDP stronghold.

The Wildrose Party led by Brian Jean won’t like those numbers much more than Ms. Notley’s NDP. However, despite Postmedia’s cheerleading for Mr. Kenney, there are problems with the corporation’s narrative.

Mr. Kenney’s camp has been saying for weeks Alberta’s the right must unite or the NDP will defeat both major right-wing parties in the next general election – and uniting the right, they say, is a job only Mr. Kenney can do.

As for that last point, maybe so. But if the PCs are polling at more than 38 per cent now, why would they need a divisive social conservative like Mr. Kenney in the lead, when they could win with, say, Sandra Jansen, Richard Starke … or even Thomas Lukaszuk as leader?

As for Herald columnist Don Braid’s claim Mr. Kenney out-fund-raised all the real political parties in the past three months, remember what Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton had to say about Republican candidate Donald Trump last night: Just as many of Mr. Trump’s answers can’t be verified because he hasn’t released his tax returns, Mr. Kenney’s can’t be tested because they don’t have to be submitted to Elections Alberta.

Anyway, it’s early days. The right-wing vote in Alberta is going to be as volatile as the price of a barrel of oil for a while yet, if only because it’s not yet clear which party or parties on the right will still be standing when the next election rolls around.

What seems clearer – assuming, again, that these latest numbers are right – is that the left-wing coalition that got the NDP elected in May 2015 is seriously fraying.

Note that the poll puts Alberta Liberal support at 9 per cent – far above where the Liberals were in the spring of 2015 and votes the NDP needs to stay in the game.

So forget about uniting the right for the moment. Maybe it’s time to start talking about uniting the left again.

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8 Comments to: Alberta right now: The state of the province, its parties, and its oil after 1 year without Stephen Harper

  1. Farmer B

    October 20th, 2016

    Good column Dave. I think this latest poll shows Albertan’s returning to their traditional voting patterns. One thing is for sure if it is correct when our Premier says she has the support of the majority of Albertan’s for her policies she is wrong!

  2. J.E. Molnar

    October 20th, 2016

    So what this Lethbridge College poll, done by first year students, is essentially telling us is that Albertans suddenly had a “come to Jesus” moment and decided that they would embrace the tired, old, corrupt policies of a party they decisively rejected in 2015.

    This poll would almost be believable if the supervisor of the poll wasn’t a staunch Wildrose and “unite the right” supporter (who sought a Wildrose nomination in 2014) and further, support for PCs in Edmonton wasn’t an unbelievable 36 per cent.

    While many will argue this poll is scientific, because of potential supervisor bias, it leaves a lot to be desired.

    • Lars

      October 22nd, 2016

      If you’re accusing Ellis of bias in his methods, it would be only fair to present some evidence.

      On the other hand, I remember him as a grad student in Calgary. A friend of mine observed that he, like Rob Anders, had been driven mad under the tutelage of Barry Cooper. That would have explained a lot.

  3. Mike from Edmonton

    October 20th, 2016

    Let me guess…the U of L got its call list from Alberta PC headquarters.

    • jerrymacgp

      October 22nd, 2016

      Actually, it’s not the University of Lethbridge, but Lethbridge [Community] College.

  4. David

    October 20th, 2016

    It seems like a very suspicious poll. How a party suddenly jumps by more than 10% without a major scandal, death or promise billions of goodies is beyond me, especially when the previous monthly movements have only been around 2 to 3%. I wonder if the names and percentages were somehow mismatched, as the 1st and 2nd place percentages could plausibly belong to the Wildrose and NDP based on other recent previous polls. It sounds crazy, but this sort of mistake has occurred before – accidents do happen. Alternatively, maybe this just happens to be the 20th poll referred to, when polls are said to be accurate 19 out of 20 times.

    I guess we will just have to wait until someone else does another poll that either confirming or refuting those numbers. Hopefully this will happen soon, so we can know whether the information we got is accurate or not.

  5. Pogo

    October 20th, 2016

    Ok! Here’s an inside baseball challenge! Who said this:

    “The guiding philosophy of many in Washington is that a dollar that is in the pocket of a poor or middle-class person is a dollar that could be in the pocket of a rich person.”

  6. Maria

    October 20th, 2016

    I always wonder who is being polled. I have lived in Edmonton – with a landline – for 50 years and have NEVER been polled on any political matter. (The consumer survey people constantly phone). Neither have and relatives, friends and neighbors. I am beginning to think that there is a pool of people who is being called.


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