Brian Jean, frontrunner in today’s Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election, boarding the Wildrose campaign motorhome back just before the NDP won the 2015 election (Photo: Brian Jean/Flickr).

On the eve of today’s Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election and less than a month before the review of Premier Jason Kenney’s leadership by United Conservative Party members, a new poll shows the NDP Opposition strongly leading the UCP in decided-voter support.

If the findings of the online survey of 600 adults made between March 11 and 13 are accurate, the New Democratic Party led by former premier Rachel Notley now has a significant advantage in Calgary as well as in Edmonton and is closing on the governing UCP even in its rural strongholds. 

Ariana Mancini, the NDP candidate in today’s by-election (Photo: Alberta NDP).

The Research Co. poll has a rather large margin of error, plus or minus 4 per cent, presumably a result of the relatively small sample size. Somewhat confusingly, the comparator numbers in the pollster’s news release look back to a similar poll taken by the same firm more than a year ago. Still, it tells a story that feels right as Mr. Kenney continues give the appearance of foundering as his date with destiny on April 9 nears. 

It’s certainly not a good look when a premier down in the polls disqualifies nomination candidates with strong support in solid UCP ridings where sitting MLAs who are Kenney loyalists appear to be in trouble. 

This happened recently in Cardston-Siksika, where Jody Gateman seemed to be in a position to knock off UCP Deputy Whip Joseph Schow. It happened again last week in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre where Tim Hoven looked like he had the momentum to beat one of the giants of the Kenney Government, House Leader and Environment Minister Jason Nixon. 

The party says without evidence that both upstart candidates from the party’s right wing were disqualified for past social media likes or retweets of messages that had the potential to turn into future Lake of Fire-style bozo eruptions.

Well, that could be true. 

Regardless, you have to wonder, what will those voters do if their own favoured party just brushes aside their desire for internal change? 

Probably worse for Mr. Kenney, though, is the potential fallout from today’s Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election, called six months after UCP MLA Laila Goodridge resigned to run successfully for the federal Conservatives in the Fort McMurray-Cold Lake riding. 

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Thanks to a fumbled effort by Mr. Kenney’s supporters to nominate their own man, who they apparently thought was a cinch to win, former Wildrose Party Leader and Kenney rival Brian Jean emerged as the UCP candidate. 

When the party, believing he could win as an independent candidate if he were disqualified, allowed him to run despite his vow to topple Mr. Kenney as leader and “save” the province from the NDP, it set the stage for another potentially humiliating problem. 

Mr. Jean, scion of a well-heeled Fort Mac business family with experience as both an MP and an MLA, is now clearly the frontrunner. If he wins tonight, that will be bad news indeed for Mr. Kenney. 

If the right-wing vote splits and Fort Mac teacher Ariana Mancini emerges victorious for the NDP, that will arguably be even worse for the premier – establishing a narrative that the Opposition party is on a path to an inevitable victory. 

Wildrose Independence Party Leader Paul Hinman back in 2010 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

In the unlikely event Paul Hinman of the Wildrose Independence Party pulls off an upset victory, it’ll be like lightning striking twice – after all, back when he was leader of the Wildrose Alliance in 2009, Mr. Hinman did the same thing with an unexpected victory in a by-election in Calgary-Glenmore. 

That too would establish a narrative that looks bad for Mr. Kenney, but would at least give him the opportunity to urge voters to rally round the Maple Leaf Flag by voting for his party. 

If any of the remaining candidates running for a variety of minor parties that Research Co. says are all polling under 10 per cent manage to win, that will be a miracle. 

Regardless, you can count on it that all candidates – especially Mr. Jean and Ms. Mancini – were pointing to these latest poll results as they strove to get their supporters out to the polls on the Ides of March and move remaining undecided voters into their column.

This by-election could be decided on a small number of votes. Elections Alberta reported yesterday that the turnout in by-election advance polls was only 1,966 or 8.2 per cent of 24,048 eligible voters, compared with 5,358 or 20.9 per cent of 25,622 eligible voters in 2019.

Research Co. President Mario Canseco (Photo: Twitter/Mario Canseco).

Going back to Research Co.’s poll, it shows the NDP leading the UCP by 50 per cent to 25 per cent in Edmonton, and by 47 per cent to 34 per cent in Calgary. Even in rural Alberta, the UCP only leads the NDP by 33 per cent to 31 per cent. 

Startlingly, the Research Co. poll shows the NDP leading the UCP among male voters by 40 per cent to 32 per cent, and among female voters by 49 per cent to 28 per cent. 

“The UCP is evidently having difficulties maintaining the base together,” observed Research Co. President Mario Canseco, rather understating matters by the sound of it, in his news release yesterday. “While the NDP is keeping 89 per cent of its supporters in the 2019 provincial election, the UCP is only managing to hold on to 51 per cent of their voters.” 

The poll indicates Ms. Notley’s performance approval rating at 49 per cent is much higher than Mr. Kenney’s at 26 per cent. 

Danielle Smith during her last summer as leader of the Wildrose Party (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Speaking of the Lake of Fire, in the March 13 edition of her subscriber newsletter, former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith suggested she probably should have done as Mr. Kenney did, and have fired Pastor Allan Hunsperger, the Wildrose candidate whose views on the eternal fate of gays and lesbians revealed shortly before the 2012 election may have ruined her party’s chances.

“I didn’t expect Hunsperger to win,” she admitted. “So my view was, if you don’t like him, vote against him. 

“I also had a lot Christian candidates on the ballot. If I was going to start firing Christians I was going to lose a hell of a lot of candidates.”

However, she said, “it never occurred to me that our entire party could lose the entire election because of one candidate.”

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  1. This is even more evidence that the UCP are on the way out. In Fort McMurray, they would be foolish to elect Brian Jean. These pretend conservatives and Reformers can’t be trusted. Albertans are very foolish if they support these people in the UCP. 4 years is bad enough. 4 more years with these pretend conservatives and Reformers will be even worse for Alberta. Where’s the sense in that?

  2. I suppose this poll just confirms what most suspected – the UCP with Kenney in charge is in big trouble. However, the timing is a bit inconvenient for Kenney, who is desperately trying to spin his story of a rosy future to anyone who will still listen, in advance of his leadership review.

    The UCP realizes it faces a difficult decision soon. One choice is to stick with the very unpopular Kenney in the hopes an improving economy and his supposed political skills will turn things around. However, even UCP loyalists could be forgiven for wondering if the hole Kenney has dug himself is perhaps too deep to get out of. Also, Kenney doesn’t seem the type to learn easily from mistakes or change his approach much.

    A second choice is to get rid of Kenney and bring back the long suffering but more popular Brian Jean. However, few believe he has the political skills of Kenney or the ruthlessness to do anything to win. Yes, Jean could at least allow the UCP to say it is under new management, but what if that new management does not impress the voters.

    However, there is of course a third option which is neither of the two. Neither the Fort Mac by-election or the upcoming leadership review is about choosing the next Premier. This will be done in a UCP leadership race, if Kenney does not get sufficient support in the leadership review. So, perhaps those in the UCP concerned about the weaknesses of Kenney and Jean should think a bit about whether there is someone else. However if not, perhaps it is just safer for them to stick to the devil they know better.

    In any event, what happens in this by election will not be good news for Kenney, because none of the candidates are running for him. Even his own party candidate is against him! Surely that is just another sign of how deep the hole Kenney has dug himself is.

  3. Wow. I believe that putting the likeness of Derek Alexander Gerhard Fildebrandt on the side of a motorhome cannot be considered the best of judgement in any circumstance.

    At this point, while the election (Re-election? Return of? The Resurrection of?) Brian Jean seems inevitable, I’m not sure if it’s wise for the voters of Ft. McMurray to amp up a partisan civil war in the UCP. After all, there’s real issues out there, that matter to real people, so enhancing the entertainment value of the on-going Crucifixion of Jason Kenney should not be considered a productive endeavor. The option for mature representation offered by Ariana Mancini is worthy of consideration. Vote smart. Vote for the adults.

    Of course, if Jean was not to win, that would stay the execution of Kenney for a little bit. It seems that the UCP has managed to successfully halt some strong challenges to the nominations of Kenney loyalists, but all this means is that those who want to keep their nominations have some choices to make.

    Do they switch sides and back the Rebel-UCP? Or, do they wait for Kenney to hand them a better offer? After all, Kenney really believes the world is a transactional environment, and everyone does have their price. Since Kenney has never appeared happier when he’s playing Daddy Warbucks, doling of the patronage is right up his alley.

    And come election time, it will be like no one has ever heard of the phrase ‘Hard Times’, when Kenney glad hands out his fist fulls of cash and goodies. Deficit? Schmefict. This is all about saving the Dear Leader’s hide. Sure, Ottawa is better, and maybe Pierre Pollivere will win and hand Kenney a sweet, sweet gig. But these are uncertain times, and nothing is more uncertain than the life span of a CPC leader.

    Ottawa calls but Alberta is an easy gig for a CON to win.

    1. Just Me: As noted in the photo caption, the photo was taken just before the 2015 election, when DAGF was still a member in good standing of the Wildrose Caucus. The photo comes from Mr. Jean’s Flickr account, which doesn’t seem to have been updated since 2016. Mr. Fildebrandt was briefly suspended from the Wildrose Caucus by Mr. Jean in the spring of 2016, if memory serves, and pushed out of the UCP Caucus by Mr. Kenney, although he technically resigned, in the summer of 2017. Anyway, I chose the photo partly because it was the right shape to fit my blog’s annoyingly horizontal required photo dimensions and partly because the presence of Mr. Fildebrandt’s disembodied and seemingly ectoplasmic head amused me. DJC

      1. Having the disembodied ectoplasmic head of Derek Fildebrandt floating behind Brian Jean is singularly appropriate. He’s the spiritual manifestation of Alberta Conservatism’s unacceptable face.

  4. David, I am really curious – did you get the photo at the top of your article from Brian Jean’s Flickr page recently, or had you have saved it from before 2015?

    With the ghostlike image of Derek Fildebrandt just to the left of Brian Jean, I really would have expected Jean to either take the photo down, or crop it to get Fildebrandt out.

    Mr. Jean does not need to remind voters how disillusioned Wildrose members got when he tried to suspend Derek Fildebrandt when Fildebrandt embarrassed the party with his antics in the legislature.

    1. Bob, as noted elsewhere, the picture has been on Mr. Jean’s Flickr account since 2015, and there haven’t been any new photos since then. Some newer shots appear on Facebook from time to time. Regardless, I chose the photo because it worked with the requirements of my blog and because Mr. Fuildebrandt’s image amused me. It this point, Mr,. Jean may assume – possibly correctly – that most Albertans no longer remember Mr. Fildebrandt, fondly or otherwise. DJC

  5. If Mr. Jean is victorious in Fort McMurray-Lake La Biche and manages to topple Jason Kenney from the premier’s job, Brian being the nice guy he seems to be, would not likely abandon Jason to unemployment. His family has a high class car wash in Fort Mac and since Jason is used to polishing things like his image, he could put that skill to good use by doing the old buff and shine on the cars and trucks before they hit the street.

  6. They didn’t lose because of one candidate. They lost because most people who weren’t their partisans were concerned about the values of the Wildrose Party, and the candidate’s comments reinforced that concern.

    With regards to her having many Christian candidates… I have known a lot of Christians. Plenty of them don’t share the more hateful, racist and discriminatory values of the “Christians” who run their mouths about lakes of fire. Just saying.

  7. Lake of fire yes but I seem to remember it came down to a single issue, Allison Redford said she supported women’s right to choice in how to plan their families, Ms. Smith would not. albertans voted accordingly.

  8. “it never occurred to me that our entire party could lose the entire election because of one candidate.”

    Well what do you expect from the worst crayon in the box.
    Danielle Smith cannot run a chicken coop because she cannot count the chickens

    Please it is about time we do not talk about her. We can package both her and Jason Kenney and send it to China on sale

  9. I have very little doubt Brian Jean will win. This, however, will likely prove to be a Pyrrhic victory as the Urinary Crap Party will separate into factions to fight amongst themselves. The end result, most likely, is my old U of A acquaintance Rachel Notley will have an easier victory. But rest assured she is still a first rate political warrior, and in no real need of this likely boost. Premier Bumbles prepare your resume for Smitty’s Pancake House applications.

  10. Watching Jason Kenney spend like a drunken sailor is hilarious. He is promising the world to a lot Albertans desperately trying to buy votes. You can bet he has no intention of following through with any of his promises. His replacement will likely cancel all of them. He certainly seems to have the mayor in Red Deer excited. None of my friends are interested in watching another sparing match between Brian Jean and Kenney they have both demonstrated what liars they are.

    Brian Jean even told us that if we don’t get what we want from Ottawa we should separate, ignoring the fact that us seniors would be giving up our old age security payments, Canada pension plan payments and our public health care benefits , but he doesn’t care winning is all he cares about.

    Apparently it’s okay to give away the peoples oil and tax revenues to their rich friends and but Ottawa had better be prepared to replace it with Equalization Payments. We doubt Canadians are that stupid.

    1. ALAN K. SPILLER: These pretend conservatives and Reformers in the UCP are copying Ralph Klein’s vote buying tricks. Sadly, Albertans are falling for this. Notice the similarity to Ralph Klein’s $400 cheques he gave to Albertans, and the head honcho of the UCP offering a “savings” of 13 cents on gas. Both were tied into the leadership review of Ralph Klein, and the leadership review for the head honcho of the UCP. Like Ralph Klein, the head honcho of the UCP wants to save his political career. This involves wasting money we don’t have. Oil prices are sinking, and how is the loss of revenue going to be remade? It will involve cuts, of some sort, and the blaming of others for where the money went. This is absurdity at its best.

  11. A Little Bird I will never forget the lies I was told by one Danielle Smith’s candidates she changed them every day. One day they didn’t believe in global warming the next day they did. One day they didn’t care about what Alberta’s air pollution was doing yet the next day they did. They didn’t believe in same sex marriage , the next day they did. The woman who was doing it got beat by some 25,000 votes if I remember correctly. Some of my friends found the same thing and as the former MLAs I knew pointed out these Reformers will say or do anything to get elected it’s the only thing they care about, that’s how desperate they are, you can’t believe anything they tell you, and you can’t.

    To call them wishy washy is an understatement.

  12. By-elections seldom topple a government. Unusual conjunctions are possible, of course: the extremely thin BC NDP minority government, vitally supported by three Green seats, would have been in a right pickle had the Opposition BC Liberals won the Nanaimo by-election: when the longtime NDP MLA for Nanaimo riding won the mayoralty of Van Isle’s “Hub City” and vacated the provincial seat, Premier John Horgan convinced Sheila Malcolmson, MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith federal riding, to contest the BC by-election, she stepping down from her federal seat after winning the BC riding in 2019, the BC Green candidate in 2nd place. The resulting federal by-election to replace Malcolmson in Ottawa went to the Green candidate who served only two years before losing to the NDP in the next federal general election, 2021.

    Most by-elections aren’t nearly so critical for a government but, being scheduled by the governing party within six months after a seat becomes vacant, they are often timed for that party’s best advantage. Timing is important with respect the general election date, most jurisdictions now fixing the date to a more-or-less four-year term: the closer the by-election is to the next general election, the more the result can initiate a “narrative” which can persists and presumably assists one of the contesting parties with its momentum. As the Nanaimo-Ladysmith example above shows, such a “narrative” doesn’t always favour the by-election winner and eventual incumbent. Nevertheless, by-election results are an opportunity to send, receive and interpret voters’ mood and likely intentions—barring unforeseen events or very volatile circumstances.

    The Fort Mac by-election is weirder still: not only is it fairly late in the UCP’s maiden term of government, with just about a year to go (although it’s possible to be just half a year before the next general election), it lands only 26 days before the UCP’s review of Jason Kenney’s leadership whose unpopularity has dragged the party’s down to a level at which it could not win if an election were held today—the principle reason for the review.

    And even more bizarre, UCP candidate Brian Jean (also former MP and MLA in the riding) has overtly vowed to depose Kenney should the hapless UCP premier survive the review—although Jean’s rhetorics has, in this strangest of circumstances, limited his slogan to “save Alberta from the NDP”. But a quick perusal of the dozen or so possible outcomes and subsequent scenarios suggests Jean isn’t the shoe-in some imagine him to be and, even if he wins Ft Mac, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll win the leadership—if K-Boy is dumped on April 9 which, in an absolutely nutty, only-in-Alberta context, is not a foregone conclusion. In fact, the road to ‘saving Alberta from the NDP’ is fraught with difficulty and peril for Mr Jean. A more improbable conjunction of circumstances is required for his success.

    Although the odds of a win for NDP candidate Ariana Mancini are long, a close result would be narrative gold for the NDP. In the unlikelihood of an NDP win tonight—even more of a winning narrative for the party in 2023 (as scheduled, anyway)—it’s not uncommon that such a winner goes on to lose the next general election—perhaps, in this case, even if the NDP does regain government. This phenomenon is attributed to a protest vote—singular—but in this case, there are more than one faction of voters protesting different —but naturally related—things, and Ms Mancini is probably not going to be the sole beneficiary of a generally consensual protest. Indeed, the secessionist Wildrose Independence Party might garner protest votes from the right—at least Ft Mac voters have a choice of candidates in which to register their dissatisfaction.

    The result and knock-ons won’t likely topple the UCP government—that is, as long as there is a UCP left to govern: the upcoming donnybrooks —plural—could well disunite the supposed conservatives of Alberta. Closing in on the general election, one wouldn’t bet on it (one good reason for K-Boy, if he survives April 9, to call an early election—there being other reasons, too…), but the alignment of wandering partisanships in the Wild Rose province have rarely, if ever, conjuncted like this. In spite of the number of seats differing by a margin too wide to normally expect much from a piddley little ole by-election, the possibility that not only a government, but a whole party might fall has gotten a lot of interest —perhaps so much that people are forgetting it’s only the eligible residents of the riding who are voting today, despite the chances that the province’s whole political landscape might change as a result.

    One can only hope that, whatever Ft Mac voters choose, it will lead to better government than Alberta has had, lo, these past three years.

    Alas, because of circumstances beyond almost everybody’s control, we’ll have to wait at least until April 9 to see what’s likely and what ain’t.

    Vote well, my Ft Mac compatriots. Alberta deserves so much better.

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