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Welcome Back To A (Much) More Progressive Alberta, Jason Kenney

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Mark Taylor/The Canadian Press

Welcome back to Alberta, Jason Kenney. A lot has changed here since you left for Ottawa in 1997. Here are the Coles Notes.

Almost 980,000 people have moved here since you were first elected as a 29-year old Reform Party MP. That's a city bigger than Edmonton that's moved to Alberta in the past 19 years and it's all thanks to massive amounts of international and inter-provincial migration. Alberta is now one of the youngest, most educated and most urban provinces in all of Canada.

And this new mass of Albertans does not have a deep connection to traditional conservative Alberta politics. When you compare Alberta to the rest of Canada we are a demographic anomaly. In Alberta there are more millenials and generation Xers than baby boomers.

Alberta's population has also become more educated over the past 20 years. In 2014 almost 26 per cent of Alberta had a university degree, double the amount in 1991. And in a December 2015 poll done by Abacus Data and commissioned by Progress Alberta, you will find that two out of three people with a university degree view themselves as progressive.

David Coletto of Abacus Data analyzed the data and found that "those living in either Edmonton or Calgary were more likely to self-identify as progressive than those living in other regions of the province. Progressive identifiers were also more likely to have higher levels of education, and more likely to live in urban communities."

Values have also shifted. The proof is in long-term polling data from Faron Ellis at Lethbridge College. He has asked the same six questions since 2009 and you see a genuine movement towards progressive values.

  • Support for gay marriage having the same legal status as traditional marriage has increased from 65.7 per cent in 2009 to 81.7 per cent in 2015
  • Support for legalized doctor-assisted suicide went from 64.3 per cent in 2009 to 80.6 per cent in 2015.
  • Support for decriminalization of marijuana has gone from 36.5 per cent in 2009 to 51.1 per cent in 2015.

Where do you think Jason Kenney stands on these issues?

Perhaps most importantly, more Albertans identify as progressive than conservative. When we asked Albertans to rank themselves on an ideological scale, 38 per cent identified as progressive, 31 per cent identified as centrist and 30 per cent identified as conservative.

When we asked respondents to rank "Albertans in general" on the same scale the conservative number came out at 53 per cent. Alberta is more progressive as you think. And it's not like you need to dig through the polling and demographic data to find this out -- look to the latest election results.

The same centrist/progressive/urban voting coalition that voted in Redford in 2012 voted
for Notley in 2015 and they're not going away. And while the Kenney hype train is currently at full speed, there are a few downsides to his candidacy that you should keep in mind.

He's never had to face a real opponent. He's spent the majority of his career in the back room. His social conservative politics play terribly in Alberta. And a Jason Kenney led government would be directly responsible for service delivery of both education and health care. Think of abortion, GSAs, trans rights and the like.

He's also a tremendously divisive figure within the PC party. This is a man who openly campaigned against the PCs for the last two provincial elections. Kenney despises red Tories and progressives more than any politician around.

Kenney fancies himself as the one man who can unite the right. And he may very well be the great uniter -- it's just far more likely that the left and the centre unite to defeat him than the other way around.

While conservatives in Alberta are certainly very well funded, well connected and very vocal, they're not the majority. The progressive and centrist vote in Alberta is the new quiet majority. A lot can change in 19 years. Welcome back, Jason.

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