Alberta Politics
Then-not-quite-prime-minister Justin Trudeau, all smiles, campaigning in Edmonton in October 2015 – can his Liberals make gains here in 2021? (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Something is dragging the federal Conservatives down in Alberta – is it Jason Kenney?

Posted on July 03, 2021, 1:52 am
8 mins

It sure looks as if Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s abysmal performance is not merely threatening the survival of his United Conservative Party Government, but is dragging down the federal Conservatives in Alberta as well. 

Alberta’s Conservatives are too strong and too entrenched even for Premier Kenney to destroy them completely.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who appears to have brought his giant blue truck out of mothballs, is frenetically trying to persuade Albertans that “happy times are back” (Photo: Screenshot of Alberta Government video).

Still, a poll published on the eve of Canada Day by the Canadian arm of the multinational Ipsos Group suggests he may be taking the Conservative Party of Canada and federal Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole to a place that could result in significant changes to the federal political scene in this supposedly deeply Tory Blue province. 

That is to say, something not unlike the conditions that led to the election of an NDP government in Alberta in 2015 could be happening again in Wild Rose Country.

That would be quite a legacy for Mr. Kenney to leave Alberta when he’s about to be able to collect his generous federal pension. 

The Ipsos poll could be a bit of a fluke, of course. Such things happen. But the results of other recent polls suggest not. And, these days, it truly doesn’t feel all that far out to suggest traditionally dominant Conservatives aren’t quite as dominant here in Alberta as they once were.

The string of disasters, bad bets, and divisive tactics perpetrated by Mr. Kenney and the UCP strategic brain trust certainly haven’t helped. To date, Mr. Kenney’s tarnished leadership has been a protracted flop on economic front.

As for the COVID-19 pandemic, the UCP largely fumbled its efforts to mitigate the virus from the get-go, suffering the embarrassment for a spell of having the highest infection rate in North America. 

Alberta’s vaccination program has been a significant success, but it’s widely understood that’s due to the Trudeau Government’s effective vaccine-acquisition policy – which, embarrassingly, Premier Kenney and Mr. O’Toole both repeatedly attacked until its success was too obvious to be denied. 

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole awkwardly running … for something (Photo: Facebook/Erin O’Toole).

The results of the Ipsos poll, says at least one prominent polling analyst, could be big gains for federal Liberals and New Democrats in Alberta when the federal election is called – widely expected sooner than later. 

The poll conducted by Ipsos for Global News shows the Liberals leading comfortably in most parts of Canada, and likely on track for a return to majority status in Parliament after a spell as a minority, as long as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is able to call an election before the tide starts to go out again. 

“If an election were held tomorrow, 38 per cent of decided voters would vote for the Liberal Party led by Justin Trudeau,” Ipsos Public Affairs VP Darrell Bricker said in his analysis of the results of the online and telephone survey of 1,501 Canadians conducted between June 17 and June 22. 

These strong numbers for the Liberals were down a couple of points from April, Mr. Bricker noted, but still put the Grits comfortably in majority territory. 

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh (David J. Climenhaga).

Nationwide support for the Conservatives led by the apparently hapless Mr. O’Toole languish at 26 per cent, Ipsos said. The poll put the NDP under Jagmeet Singh down one point from a month earlier at 20 per cent, and Bloc at 8, the Greens at 7 and the remaining 2 per cent for “another party.” Maverick Party? People’s Party of Canada? Who cares? 

While the Liberals are strong in most key demographics, Ipsos’ results indicated, Conservative strength is strong enough on the Prairies and the Bloc’s in Quebec that “people shouldn’t get carried away with these polls and start awarding the Liberals 200 seats,” advised polling analyst Eric Grenier on his personal website. 

Still, everyone seems to agree this situation is very bad news for Mr. O’Toole, whose personal popularity at 23 per cent lags the prime minister’s by 18 points and is tied with Mr. Singh’s. So, 42 for Mr. Trudeau, 23 for Mr. O’Toole, and 23 for Mr. Singh.

In Alberta, Mr. Bricker said, the Conservatives remain “in the driver’s seat” at 38 per cent, but with the Liberals at 29 per cent, the NDP at 21 per cent, and the Greens at 9 per cent, change could happen. 

Darrell Bricker of Ipsos Public Affairs (Photo: Public Affairs Association of Canada).

“The challenges the Kenney government have faced in recent months have harmed the Tory brand,” Mr. Bricker said diplomatically. 

“Those are absolutely disastrous numbers, and if replicated at election time would probably see both the Liberals (29 per cent) and the NDP (21 per cent) winning a ton of seats in Edmonton and Calgary,” Mr. Grenier said more forcefully. He noted that another recent poll for Abacus showed similar numbers for Alberta.

A ton? Maybe even a tonne? Well, you can’t watch Alberta politics for a long time without suspecting that’s just a pipedream. What’s more, it’s not exactly unheard of in recent North American elections for conservative parties to poll worse than they actually perform on election night. 

Still, better minds than mine

“You can’t blame the Maverick or People’s parties for the Conservative woes in their own backyard,” Mr. Grenier added. “Combined, Ipsos awarded these parties just 3 per cent support in Alberta.”

“You might want to point fingers at Premier Jason Kenney instead,” he concluded.

Well, it’s hard to dispute that proposition. 

20 Comments to: Something is dragging the federal Conservatives down in Alberta – is it Jason Kenney?

  1. Anonymous

    July 3rd, 2021

    I believe I have a theory as to why this is. First, there are people who disdain Reformers, and for good reason. Second, it’s the bad policy ideas of the Reformers which turn people off. The UCP is doing similar things to what Ralph Klein was doing, and that turned voters off in a federal election, many years ago. Ralph Klein was mentioning about some type of Third Way health care reform in Alberta, and this included looking at private for profit healthcare options in Alberta. Voters rejected the CPC in that particular federal election. When Canadians see how bad the UCP are in Alberta, they won’t want that at the federal level.

    Reply
    • Firth of Fifth

      July 3rd, 2021

      I think it’s generally accepted that Klein The Swine was well under the sway of early dementia during those waning days when he started promoting the so-called “third way” that gained almost zero traction among sane voters of the time. That said, at least we can retrospectively blame dementia in Klein’s case….no such excuse for the clowns in charge now that will simply bulldoze their policies through on inertia of ideology alone. Who needs voter support when you have a majority in Oilberduh?

      Reply
  2. Bob Raynard

    July 3rd, 2021

    Thanks for writing this, David.

    Between a possible federal election denting the CPC’s stranglehold on Alberta, and the municipal election offering a de facto referendum on Jason Kenney’s leadership in the form of the equalization vote, this coming fall could be really embarrassing politically for our inept premier. Perhaps when he looks back this summer really will look wonderful.

    I wonder if Kerry Diotte (MP Edmonton Griesbach) is feeling a bit nervous right now. With the increased focus on anti racism Canadians are presently having, Mr. Diotte’s previous connection to Faith Goldy is even more toxic.

    Reply
  3. jerrymacgp

    July 3rd, 2021

    If you look at the other prominent poll tracker, P J Fournier’s 338.com — which has been updated more recently than the CBC Poll Tracker maintained by Mr Grenier — you will see the Conservatives well behind the Liberals in Atlantic Canada, Québec, Ontario, BC & the Territories. In fact, they’re also behind the Bloc in Québec & the NDP in the Territories & neck & neck with them in BC (29% Con vs 28% NDP).

    They are only ahead in Alberta at 54% — well below their share of the popular vote in the 2019 election — and in MB/SK (which both Mr Fournier & Mr Grenier treat as one region) at 45%. Seat projections give the Cons around 30 seats in Alberta, a loss of three, which is a bit shocking in what is their heartland. It’s like the GOP losing districts in Texas or Oklahoma. And in both Alberta and MB/SK, it’s the NDP that’s in second place in popular vote — although not seat projections — after the Cons, not the Liberals.

    My prediction is (1) we’ll have a federal election sooner rather than later, perhaps even in August; (2) the Liberals will win either a slim majority or a stronger-plurality minority; (3) the NDP will make gains while the Cons lose seats; (4) the Green Party, with its recent internal machinations demonstrating they are not ready for Canadian political prime time, will fade into near-seatless obscurity, although former leader Elizabeth May might narrowly cling onto her seat. Here in Alberta, I expect Heather McPherson to retain her seat in Edmonton-Strathcona, and the NDP may pick up one more seat, and the Liberals may pick up a couple in one or both of the two big cities. In the small cities & the hinterland, I still expect a Conservative sweep, but also expect a significant protest vote for alt-right fringe parties like Mad Max’s PPC & the separatist Maverick Party, aka le Bloc Albertain.

    I also expect the blossoming of dozens of red & orange parachutes as both the federal Liberals & federal NDP drop unknown candidates into ridings where they have no on-the-ground infrastructure, federal riding associations being moribund in much of the province.

    Reply
  4. Abs

    July 3rd, 2021

    The skies opened up and the rocks rained down last night on Calgary last night. Particularly hard-hit was Calgary-Lougheed. An omen, the social media crowd asked?

    Climate change is here, not just sending frequent violent thunderstorms, but droughts and wildfires, one of which consumed the village of Lytton, B.C. this week. Anyone whose only gig is oil and gas might want to watch this week’s video from the Gulf of Mexico, wherein the ocean became a burning ring of fire due to a burst pipeline.

    The world is changing, quickly. There is no option to live in the past. People who want to live in the past will lead us all to certain demise in the future. It seems the future is on our doorstep. It does not include the “Best Summer Ever”.

    Reply
  5. Alan K. Spiller

    July 3rd, 2021

    Albertans seem to have finally woken up to the fact that these are Reformers and are nothing like the conservatives we proudly supported under Lougheed and Getty , who treated everyone with dignity and respect, and not just themselves and their rich friends.

    As much as a lot of us true conservatives aren’t fans of Trudeau we trust him a lot more than Erin O’Toole who is once again promoting the Stephen Harper plan to cut $36 billion off provincial health care funding to force us into privatization. Where is the intelligence in that? It got Harper defeated. In addiction he has brought back Harper’s desire to destroy the CBC and doesn’t care how many jobs will be lost, or that remote areas of Canada still need it.

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      July 3rd, 2021

      ALAN K. SPILLER: You sure have it right!

      Reply
  6. Just Me

    July 3rd, 2021

    The apparent decline of conservatives in Canada and Alberta are the results of O’Toole’s and Kenney’s perpetual gaslighting campaigns.

    O’Toole declares he’s in favour LGBTQ2+ rights and protections and declares he’s Pro-Choice. (A highly qualified Pro-Choice position, of course) But it’s also remembered that O’Toole frequently blew on his well worn dog whistle and declared that CPC must “take back Canada”. Taking Canada back from whom is up for debate, so insert your favourite culture war enemy here.

    Kenney has pretty much gaslighted Alberta into a chaotic inferno. Not only is everything sub standard in the UCP policy play list, but its partisan staffers have spent so much time on their own respective shenanigans it’s hard to believe anything that is said. Worse, Kenney approves of this behaviour, until public forces him to reluctantly roll some heads. And public health restrictions have killed Kenney’s support among the Qanon and raging kook burger constituencies, so this is the perfect storm of discontent.

    Kenney has his exit strategy ready and a nice safe conservative riding is waiting for him. (Once it’s vacated, of course) He’s always preferred Ottawa over Alberta, so leaving behind the yokels will be his relief.

    Excelsior!!!!

    Reply
  7. Mike J Danysh

    July 3rd, 2021

    I suspect that Erin O’Toole’s popularity, here in the Kingdom of Oilberduh, is low because he’s perceived as a Red Tory. Many of the Faithful were aghast when O’Toole failed to denounce the idea of a (gasp) carbon tax. The Faithful perceived this as betrayal, since O’Toole promised, in his leadership campaign for the federal Cons (a.k.a the Forward to the Past Party), to destroy the evil, job-killing carbon tax yet again. (Everyone else, everywhere but the Prairies, knew it wasn’t gonna happen, but poor Erin had no choice. He really needed those Yellow Vest votes.)

    Kenney, of course, is his own worst enemy. Quite possibly he’s Erin O’Toole’s worst enemy, too. The number of UCP gaffes, screw-ups, own-goals and sheer, bone-headed stupidity is beyond belief. (I’ve tried to keep track, but the list is too long. Even as bullet points, it’s at least one page.) The anti-Notley crowd who voted UCP have seen—not the light, perhaps—but for now they’ve turned back from the Darkness. This period of Alberta’s political history may become known as Jason’s Folly.

    That’s not to say the Faithful have lost all hope in their Dystopian dream of libertarian chaos. Jason Kenney is the Chosen One. He will save them from Big Government, if anyone can. (But who will save Jason Kenney from the Faithful, when the fourth wave of the Covid Apocalypse crashes ashore?)

    Despite the heinous nature of the Betrayal, I suspect even the Faithful will feel compelled to welcome the sinning brother back into the Faith (“Oil is all. Oil is our Saviour. As it was in 1947, is now, and ever shall be.”). The next federal election, this fall, will see the Oilberduh Faithful troop into their polling stations, hold their noses, and vote Conservative Party of Canada—in spite of Erin O’Toole’s leadership. Why? They’re still “sticking close to Nurse, for fear of Something Worse.”

    Reply
  8. Caron

    July 3rd, 2021

    And let’s not forget “events dear boy” in the shape of mutant Covid strains currently putting the skids to abandoning masking requirements in Britain, Australia, and Israel to name a few outside of “Orth America” as you typoed it. Or were you perhaps alluding to the sin of Onan which the mighty Jason no doubt frequently wrestles with, much as King wrestled with wasting twenty five cents on his way home from the office?

    But all bets are not off yet, especially when you consider Minister Freeland’s darling Ukraine is planning a military parade with the female soldiers marching in heels. Where oh where does the ‘family values’ bunch, much less the wokesters, go with that one? Good thing nobody cares about Canada’s foreign policy of dealing with oligarchs and worse. Too bad we can expect nothing from any of the Parties on the genocide of first Nations children, not even a tax levy on the churches to pay reparations.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      July 4th, 2021

      Thanks for the reminder about Orth America. That should have been Orth Merica. (Joke.) No, seriously, my readers are my editors and I really appreciate it. It has now been corrected. At least, as typos go, this one had the effect of not leaving my intention unclear. DJC

      Reply
  9. Scotty on Denman

    July 3rd, 2021

    A lot of ModCons—including erstwhile CPC supporters—were hoping Andrew Scheer’s replacement would steer toward the middle path so’s to win back moderates repelled by the religious, far right, and western separatist factions that their defections have elevated in the CPC by default. Both winner, Erin O’Toole, and runner-up, Perter MacKay, were Easterners presumed to have traditional—or, more moderate—Tory credentials. Although both HarperCon cabinet ministers, MacKay was previously leader of the rump ProgCon party, son of Mulroney-era minister Elmer, and O’Toole was a former military man and lawyer; neither had cut their teeth on anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, or anti-tax activism more typical of Western Reformers political schooling.

    However, third-place Leslyn Lewis and fourth-place Derek Sloan were also Easterners, but overtly appealed to SoCon and far-right party members, respectively, who are more typical of the Reform factions of the West. The extremist Sloan was eliminated on the first ballot, but SoCon Ms Lewis garnered wide support in the usual rural bastions of conservatism—the Annapolis Valley and southwest Ontario, but especially in the Prairies and BC Interior. She was eliminated on the second ballot.

    The party wanted a change, reflected by the dearth of Western candidates for leadership and, of course, by MacKay’s second-place finish and O’Toole’s win. But how much of that was really like Murray McLoughlin sang: “Don’t you wanna change from losing?”—and how much was a genuine and growing desire to track back to moderate Torydom?

    O’Toole thought he could touch the bases that would satisfy both sides: in his leadership acceptance speech he expressed an openness to those who’d never before considered voting conservative, a conciliatory note played immediately before tossing a cookie to the must-win-power-at-any-cost sentiment—up the middle, as ‘t were—which was fine for his victory speech, but when he tried the same at the party policy convention by saying what most Canadians, all the way from of the left to the centre-right, already know—that the climate-change debate is over and delegates should so resolve, he got a stern rebuke from a majority who voted it down. Subsequently his rhetoric has begun to sound more like Alberta’s Jason Kenney than a leader who wants to appease both sides through compromise and, thereafter, truly reunite a flagging bifurcating party in order to regain power.

    Since his original calculation has failed, the question has become whether the moderate faction (and erstwhile conservative voters) or the Western faction is abandoning the CPC and causing its popularity polls to continue sinking.

    I think it’s both, but for different reasons—and that in itself indicates a party that’s straining to stay untied. Conservatives —both old Tory-style and new neoliberal-style—have always been unforgiving of a leader who can’t deliver a win—ever since Robert Stanfield back in the 60s. CPC founder Stephen Harper wanted to stay on after his 2015 defeat, even haunting caucus by remaining in parliament after resigning and overstaying his welcome. And it’s true of all neo-right, or neoliberal-usurped conservative parties, now conservative in name only, that sagging popularity is looking more desperately irreversible all the time—so desperate that the previous leader immediately fell from favour even though he actually beat the Liberals in popular vote and increased his party’s seats in 2019, but only held the Liberals to a minority.

    But, for O’Toole, it’s doubly serious: for a party faction which has frequently displayed unabashed bigotry to endorse, in seeming contradiction, a leadership candidate from the East who was both a woman and Black—as most Prairie and Interior BC delegates did—shows how climate-change denial has become an article of such extreme faith in that region that Ms Lewis’ SoCon credentials were enough to override her colour or gender. For O’Toole to broach putting the climate-change debate to bed was plainly sacrilege from that point of view. Thence suspicion of his federal and Eastern credentials are now sanctified by SoCon bitumen-boom dreamers and Alberta separatists whom Jason Kenney gins every day. For them, it’s not that O’Toole can’t deliver what they desperately pray for, rather more they won’t let him. He’s an Easterner and that half of caucus has now broken even with the formerly predominant Westerners; he’s a federal politician when anti-federal feelings are running high in the Wild Rose province; but worst of all by far, he betrayed the climate-change deniers and, to them, he has become evil.

    The exception in the West were delegates from the TMX corridor who supported O’Toole’s leadership bid—not the pipeline corridor itself, but the business corridor between Calgary and Vancouver which, unsurprisingly, preferred Tory prudence to SoCon bitumen evangelism.

    As O’Toole scrambles to atone with Liberal bashing in lockstep with Kenney’s UCP, it’s not enough to absolve his great sin. It is instead pathetic.

    The West forms half the CPC caucus so it would be easy to attribute the party’s flagging poll numbers to Western resentment so fanatical it trumps the party’s perennial priority to win power, but I think it’s too easy to blame it all on that.

    Quieter, less dramatic is the disappointment moderates conservatives right across the country must feel as they watch their great hope turn his back on them to grovel to the basest instincts of a party which harbours plenty of them—frustrating their desire to cleave to moderation as the only way to reverse the party’s slide into moribundity. They realize he can’t win—but in a different way and for different reasons than the faction they either want to leave behind or have already.

    A terminal diagnosis for the CPC is looking more likely all the time.

    Reply
  10. Brett

    July 4th, 2021

    I believe that O’Toole and the Conservative Party deserve all the credit for this. Greatly aided by Scheer, Sloan, and of late Ron Liepert’s ridiculous musing about O”’Toole’s carbon tax proposal .

    Performance to date has been abysmal. The polls have been steadily going in one direction since the leadership convention. Not even a post victory bump. Very telling.

    From my perspective, barring anything unforeseen, O’Toole and his merry band are the best election boosters the Trudeau Liberals could have. They are doing a fabulous job…assistance from Kenney on this front is not needed.

    Pity us Albertans. We have Kenney as Premier and o doubt the usual sheeple will vote for O’Toole, Perhaps not in the same numbers but enough to get the local nobody MP’s over the finish line.

    We used to live in Calgary West where they always voted for Rob Anders. That proves to me that Albertans would vote for pig as long as it had a Conservative ribbon round it’s neck.

    Reply
  11. Dave

    July 4th, 2021

    Yeah, Kenney is dragging down the Federal Conservatives, even in Alberta. Now to be fair, its not all his doing, O’Toole has been rather tepid so far. In some ways both Kenney and O’Toole have similar self made problems, but arrived at them differently. Pandering to the right wing base turned off too many centrist voters, so they tried to tone that down, but that has only seemed to irritate the base. O’Toole in particular can’t seem to decide whether he is a progressive Conservative or a true blue one. One moment he is embracing social conservatives, the next he is kicking them out of the party. Pretty much everyone is confused about what he stands for.

    Of course, no one ever accused Kenney of being progressive, but those who put him in power figured that would not be a problem in Alberta. Except of course their idealized Conservative true blue homeland currently mostly now exists only in their imagination. While the right wing of Conservatism here was always more vocal and often more powerful, the provincial PC dynasty at times took the progressive part of their name somewhat seriously. They didn’t have the strongest convictions, which also gave them the advantage to pivot whichever way was best at the moment politically, keeping the electoral calendar in mind. Kenney’s pivoting is even less convincing than O’Toole’s, if he is even trying.

    Of course, in theory Kenney might be able to survive all this as he wields considerable power has no serious challengers and at least according to conservatives is a strong campaigner and good organizer. However, he totally mismanaged COVID, putting in restrictions too slowly and easing them too soon. Then there was the fight with the doctors, the coal policy, all the vacationing UCP ministers, MLA’s and aides in the midst of COVID travel restrictions and lest we forget the Sky Palace diner and drinks, where he could not seem to follow his own rules on distancing and masks. He was never more popular than the UCP, but now seems to be dragging them down more.

    I suppose the Federal Conservatives are stuck with O’Toole for now, even if they may be having buyers remorse about their not so shiny new leader. However, the good news for them is if he does not have a miraculous turn around, they can quickly get rid of him after the next Federal election, just like they did with the last one. Perhaps eventually they will find a better leader or people will tire of the Federal Liberals at some point. There is a possible path back to power, although likely not a quick one.

    However, the Alberta UCP is more of a conundrum. Kenney really doesn’t want to go and it will be hard to get rid of him, even though many in the UCP can already see their best hope in the next election would be with a new leader. Unfortunately, there is no one in the UCP with Kenney’s political skill, but more popularity. It will be difficult for anyone to bridge the gap between the increasingly strident right wing and the increasingly alienated more centrist conservatives. The UCP was very much the creation of Kenney as his personal vehicle back to power. So, I would not be surprised if the whole thing falls apart without Kenney and without power.

    Reply
  12. Bruce Turton

    July 4th, 2021

    Contrary to “Dr. Kenney’s” wishes, it was good to go out for a few things and note that almost every person was wearing a mask. Not all Albertans are as stupid as “Dr. Kenney” would want!!! Of course, ‘here’ is Redmonton, not one of those territories where only 30 to 40% of denizens bother to get vaccinated for a ‘simple flu’!! [I do wish the media would quit saying that those vaccinated are “immune” – less vulnerable, yes, but not “immune”.]

    Reply
  13. Bret Larson

    July 4th, 2021

    You’re fixated on Kenny, probably much like a rat to a cobra. However Kenny has nothing to do with the conservative popularity in Alberta. It all has to do with otoole emulating liberals, and dippers.You know parties that don’t care about Alberta and will flush their legitimate needs down the loo for votes in bc and Quebec.

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      July 5th, 2021

      That is totally off the mark. History has shown that to be the case, when Ralph Klein started mouthing off about messing with healthcare in Alberta, which included the potential to have private for profit healthcare in Alberta, right before a federal election. The CPC were defeated, and Peter MacKay had no positive words for Ralph Klein. The UCP have also looked into aspects of private for profit healthcare in Alberta, and this won’t bode well if the CPC hope to get elected.

      Reply
      • Bret Larson

        July 6th, 2021

        That’s exactly what I just said. Majoritarian vote buying behaviour is bad for Alberta. However Peter mckay loves it.

        Reply
  14. Brett

    July 4th, 2021

    IMHO O’Tooles problem is simple.

    He tries to appease the social conservatives within his own Party and at the same time woo Canadian voters. Often with his middle class nonsense or his take back Canada drivel.

    This is impossible. The result has been a spectacularly abysmal performance, divided caucus, and a divided Party.

    Knives will be in his back before the next election. Another election, yet another Conservative leader.

    Perhaps this is Kenney’s backup plan. Pity the poor Canadian voters if this is one of the options.

    Reply

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