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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”