Alberta Premier Jason Kenney – is he the source of his party’s problems? (Photo: Chris Schwarz, Government of Alberta).

Two bad new polls in one day for the United Conservative Party do not guarantee NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley will return to power in 2023 or that we will soon see the back of Premier Jason Kenney.

Still, they suggest some interesting possibilities. 

Opposition Leader and former premier Rachel Notley (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The online survey of 1,001 Albertans by Léger reported yesterday shows the NDP led by Ms. Notley, the former premier, with a very strong lead – 40 per cent province-wide compared to 20 per cent for Mr. Kenney’s UCP. That survey was open between March 5 and March 8. 

An online survey of 603 Albertans from the Angus Reid Institute revealed the same day suggests a much tighter race, with the NDP narrowly leading the UCP province-wide by 41 per cent to 38 per cent. That poll was conducted between Feb. 26 and March 3. 

There’s much more, of course. But notwithstanding all the obvious problems with self-selecting online poll panels and the big gap between the results of the two surveys, both indicate the decline in UCP popularity is a continuing trend, not much improved (yet, anyway) by the Kenney Government’s recent softer rhetoric or its 2021 Budget. 

Both also reinforce the narrative that Albertans are sick and tired of Mr. Kenney himself, whatever they may think of his party, and wouldn’t be unhappy to see him headed back to Ottawa, whence he came. 

That the results are so different, obviously, means one is more likely to be close to the truth and the other an outlier. You can’t just split the difference between such things and assume you’ve hit the mark. 

But even the Léger survey, from the perspective of practical politics, is perhaps not quite as lopsided as it seems if you consider how much of the NDP support it charts comes from the Edmonton area.

Léger suggests the NDP would overwhelm the UCP by 49 per cent to 14 per cent in Alberta’s capital. But while it shows the NDP leading in rural areas and Calgary, it’s not by so much that there isn’t plenty of potential for the governing party to turn things around in two years. So the last thing NDP supporters should do is start thinking and acting as if another Orange wave in 2023 is inevitable.

Angus Reid concludes the UCP still leads outside Edmonton and Calgary in both the north and south.

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Still, results like this do indicate New Democrats can expect to hang onto their Orange fortress in the Capital Region, a solid base from which to mount a campaign, and it offers hope of a path to victory in ’23.

But even if we believe the Léger poll’s indicated split of 36 to 34 per cent in the NDP’s favour in Calgary, that’s close enough anything could happen in an actual election, especially one that isn’t going to happen any time soon. It’s also close enough for the Alberta Party, one supposes, to tilt the election one way or another or end up holding the balance of power. 

Given the time to the next election, I wouldn’t advise betting your garden plot in Strathcona, let alone your entire farm, on the predictive power of either of these polls. It’s some of the other speculative possibilities that are more interesting just now. 

For example, the Angus Reid survey says Albertans are profoundly unimpressed by the UCP’s 2021 budget. It also indicates NDP supporters are much more likely to support a sales tax. But a strong majority of Albertans, about 60 per cent according to both polls, continues to oppose the idea of a sales tax. 

Former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

In his Feb. 25 budget speech, Finance Minister Travis Toews said “a third-party review of the efficiency and appropriateness of our revenue structure will be important in the future.” At least one prominent commentator took that as a hint of a UCP sales tax to come.

So, could the NDP, despite the fact its supporters are supposedly more likely to support the idea, attack the UCP as being inclined to impose such a tax if the party gets a second mandate? 

And what if the narrative continues to be widely accepted that Mr. Kenney himself is now the UCP’s principal problem? Could the Government Caucus in the Legislature decide they’ll need to put him on a train for Ottawa sooner than later to save their owns skins? 

It’s happened before – most recently seven years ago this Monday, when the Progressive Conservative Caucus gave premier Alison Redford the “work plan” that led to her announcement four days later she was quitting.

Premier Kenney may have created the UCP in his own image, but former Wildrose leader Brian Jean obviously still casts covetous eyes on the party that he may feel, with justice, he was cheated out of leading. The RCMP may yet have something to say about that, too. 

Will the UCP Caucus – with or without a leadership vote open to the public as in the days of the Progressive Conservative Party – decide someone more like the PC leaders of old could permanently restore the dynasty founded by Peter Lougheed in 1971 that survived almost unchallenged until 2015? 

If not Mr. Jean, is there someone enough like an old-timey Red Tory from the days before Ralph Klein who could win the votes of small-c conservatives otherwise ready to swing back to Ms. Notley, and yet enough of a neoliberal to satisfy Mr. Kenney’s opponents on his caucus’s right? Someone a bit like the late Jim Prentice, in other words. 

If there is, count on it that someone in the UCP is thinking about calling that person, if they haven’t called already.

Join the Conversation


  1. This just in…the UCP party will hold a leadership review at their annual convention, in 2022.

    Kenney has become so unpopular he’s dragging down the party ticket, even among “soft” UCP voters. He’ll probably have to turn down the volume (not necessarily backing off from confrontations with doctors et al, just not doing it so publicly). Kenney may even have to find good-news stories to combat his negative image. (Personally, I can’t imagine where he could find such a thing.)

    Maybe Kaycee Madu can help. The embarrassing story of a few Lethbridge cops abusing their access to police files, trying to find “dirt” on Shannon Phillips, must have caused some heartburn in Kenney’s cabinet. Can’t you imagine the conversation? “Look, you’re making the Premier look bad. Cut it out. If you don’t stop this, we will.” If Madu can “demonstrate resolve” while Kenney keeps his distance, some of the bad feelings may dissipate.

    Or maybe Justin Trudeau will hand Kenney a gift, like (I dunno) increasing the carbon tax. Smart people will welcome it, but we’re in Oilberduh. Stay tuned….

  2. I would characterize the polls slightly differently – one as so, so and one as horrible. However, perhaps that averages out to bad if you think the truth lies somewhere in between, which is likely. My sense is that is worse than the Angus Reid one, but not quite as bad as the Leger one for the UCP. If that is the case, there is a possibility for some sort of a come back for Kenney and the UCP. If Leger is more correct, then their prospects are very bad.

    I think the general sense is that Calgary will be competitive in the next election and the UCP are still ahead in rural Alberta is probably correct. Given that rural Alberta has more seats than its share of the population, the UCP can afford to be a bit behind in the popular vote overall and still win government, if they keep enough seats in Calgary and keep most in rural Alberta. The Angus Reid polls seems to suggest this possibility, but even so it is far from a sure thing for the UCP. A lot could go right or wrong for the UCP in the next couple years and so far voters have grown less fond of Kenney and the UCP as they have gotten to know them better.

    If recent oil prices hold, the economy should improve considerably and although it lags a bit, jobs will likely also improve eventually over the next year or so. Although, it would have to improve a lot for to help the UCP. For instance for the NDP, jobs and the economy did start to improve by 2018-19, but not enough to help. The ballot question, as they say is “are you better off than 4 years ago?” So, no doubt things will probably improve economically somewhat from where they are now, but the benchmark is it will need to be better than in 2019. The UCP may end up being its own worst enemy. Its inclination to cut spending will slow down and suppress any economic recovery. I also doubt for all its efforts, the UCP will be able to get the budget into a surplus position before the next election.

    In the end, I suppose polls at this point should be taken with a grain of salt, the UCP is down, but it is premature to count them entirely out. If this is how they also see it, I suspect Kenney will not leave easily or his party will not force him out. In some ways this could be a good thing for the opposition, Kenney was never personally that popular and a lot of the unpopular things the UCP has done will attach to him personally.

  3. Someone like Jim Prentice has already tried to lead conservatives in Alberta, Dave–he was named Jim Prentice. Since Reagan-Thatcher, conservatism has been in a constant process of devolution, which is why, with each successive leader, former leaders look better in retrospect–hence George W. Bush as opposed to Donald Trump and George H.W. Bush as opposed to George W. Bush (it works with Mulroney and Harper too). It’s unsettling, though. to contemplate who will make us nostalgic for Jason Kenney. Drew Barnes, perhaps?

  4. One more comment, because I can’t resist. For the man who likes to talk about reckonings–a reckoning.

  5. In the 2015 election Rachel Notley won with just over 41% of the popular vote. In these 2 polls her support peaks out at 41%. It is interesting to me that 41% appears to be where NDP support hits a ceiling on a province wide basis. A lot can change between now and 2023.

  6. I think the UCP has too many supporters whose primary goal is to get their politically unpalatable policies implemented. Abortion and moving towards a more autonomous province (Alberta pension plan/police force) are two examples. These supporters are not going to sacrifice their goals to improve the party’s electoral prospects by supporting a more centrist leader.

  7. Kenney has become so unpopular he’s a drag on the party. “Soft” UCP voters are threatening to leave, and that’s bad news for a party that won mostly because of disgust with the NDP. (Most of the “disgust” was manufactured by propaganda and Old Tory resentment at being booted out, but that’s for another day.)

    Kenney’s only real choice right now is to quiet down, temporarily call off the public attacks on doctors and nurses and hope it all blows over. (The backroom attacks on doctors will continue, as will attacks on unions, the Alberta Teachers Association, and anyone who pisses off Lord Jason–e.g., Edmonton and the U of A.)

    Would you be surprised if I said I’m not expecting a good result?

  8. Bad economies are historically bad news for incumbent governments – even if the the systemic failure of the economy is outside the control of the government. With that in mind it is instructive to compare the leadership and polls of the UCP and federal Liberals over the last 2 years.

    Here is another data point to ponder:
    “In Alberta, employment rose 17,000 (+0.8%). Most of the overall employment increase was in accommodation and food services and coincided with the easing of restrictions on restaurants, cafés and bars. With more people working, the unemployment rate fell 0.8 percentage points to 9.9%, the lowest since March 2020.”

  9. I’d say the Alberta Party has a real opportunity here to set themselves up as the moderate right-wing alternative to those voters unwilling to embrace the NDP but feeling disappointed by the UCP. Also, it’s increasingly seeming like a sales tax is inevitable at some point. Few people in the province want it, of course, but the fact is our energy revenues will never surge as they did in the past, we have no effective alternative to those revenues, and we didn’t manage our money well enough when we had the chance, so a sales tax will be the fiscal raft to keep our heads above water.

  10. How likely is it that Brian Jean would want to lead the UCP? Their rejection of him in favour of Jason Kenney shows just what their standards are. There’s no home in that party for a principled conservative. That breed was pretty-much driven out of conservative politics by Reform. Someone like Hugh Segal is much happier, these days, following other pursuits.
    In any case, as David points out, the UCP was formed by Jason Kenney as a means of gaining and holding on to power, and is probably otherwise pretty irrelevant to him, except as part of the process of forming a Conservative bunker in the West. Once he sees his way clear to achieving a federal leadership position, he’ll be off, to let whoever might care to pick up the pieces on Alberta.

  11. A 26/Feb. article in the Edmonton Journal, written by Jeff Labine with files from Trevor Rob and Dustin Cook quotes one of Bill Flanagan’s (U of A President) observations re: Alberta’s most recent budget. “Twenty-five percent of Alberta’s post secondary students attend the U of A, yet the province yet the province has required us to bear nearly fifty percent of the reduction in provincial funding.”
    This was shortly after reading that piece a retired friend, who has M.Eng in Electrical Engineering from the U of A sent me, what I thought, a revealing article.
    It was from the RCAF Association Career Centre. My friend was, for a period of time, an RCAF navigator and pilot.
    The article lists nine separate positions for assistant professorships required in the Faculty of Electrical and Computing Engineering. All are listed as full time, indefinite, minimum Ph.D and available at the University of Calgary.
    Being full-time and indefinite means handsome salaries with attendant benefits.
    Institutional favouritism? Naw…probably not.

  12. Well that they have that kind of percentages regardless of which poll we are taking about is what amazes me.
    38% support? WOW seriously what kind of people support a government that so far has done nothing right?
    What kind of people support a government that created a War Room that has cost us already 60 million dollars to find that the subversion comes from a Netflix cartoon. I certainly hope that Netflix does not even acknowledge this total lack of intelligence. These people in my estimation would be lucky to have 4% support because all societies have that kind of percentage of lunatics.

    1. Carlos, I agree. But, I live in a true blue conservative riding in AB that will never, ever, ever vote anything other than conservative. People here do not know or care about the blunders (blunders is an understatement). It doesn’t matter to them. Some are loony, some are rednecks, some are business people, some are self-employed, some are public sector workers who shot themselves in the foot. Most, though, are generational voters who could care less about platforms and putting in the effort to be informed.

  13. I think it’s pretty much a given that the UCP will be finished in 2023, unless they try some other scheme to get re-elected.

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