11/19/2012 02:38 EST | Updated 11/19/2012 07:22 EST

Alberta Social Conservatism On The Decline, But Social Topics Still Hot-Button Issues


Albertans' notorious socially conservative views may be more the exception than the rule in the province these days, according to numbers from a Lethbridge college study.

The Calgary Herald states a telephone survey conducted by the college found most Albertans — in some ways overwhelmingly — support historically explosive conservative issues such as abortion, assisted suicide and same-sex marriage, harshly in contrast with Alberta's staunchly conservative reputation.

The poll showed that 74 per cent of Albertans believe same-sex marriage should have equal standing with traditional unions, which is up from 66 per cent in 2009, the Herald reports.

The survey also showed that 81 per cent of Albertans believe abortion is a matter of personal choice, which is up from 78 per cent in 2009. Seventy-six per cent of those living in Wild Rose Country believe the terminally ill should have the right to opt for doctor-assisted suicide, which is up from 64 per cent in 2009, the Herald states.

Ironically, when compared to a similar survey conducted in what was until recently a bastion of provincial NDP politics, participants in the University of Saskatchewan's Taking the Pulse poll showed the attitude regarding some of these social issues in that province were not as progressive as the respondents in Alberta, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix states.

Loleen Berdahl, U of S associate professor of political studies, told the StarPhoenix she and her fellow researchers added the assisted suicide question to other moral issue questions in their poll, which used the exact wording as the survey conducted by Lethbridge College.

She tells the StarPhoenix she was astounded to find that while 76 per cent of Albertans were in support of doctor-assisted suicide, the number of Saskatchewan residents who felt similarly about the subject was only 59 per cent.

Berdahl explained the results by saying, "just demographically, Alberta is a bit younger, in terms of population, than Saskatchewan. It's a bit wealthier, and we see, of course, that age and income matters to these questions."

But although Albertans are more progressive in their social attitudes than their predecessors and even their socialist cousins to the east, issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion are still hot-button issues.

An incident that saw a pro-life add displayed on the side of a trailer parked along a southern Alberta highway near Taber, and later vandalized with pro-choice slogans earlier this month, raised a tempest on social media.

People on both sides of the fence held nothing back, using pointed - and sometimes profane language — to condemn one side or support the other.

Taz Dhrwl was more forceful in the delivery, saying "Pro-lifers are f***ing up the world for the rest of us. If you're pro-life, then you should be taking care of the homeless people in your town and city, and not worrying what a woman is going to do with her body."

Collette A. Smith countered with, "a liberal society requires that we tolerate different values<< But in reality, our current 'liberals' only tolerate those values that are the same as theirs, which makes them even more intolerant than those they're pointing a finger at. Hypocrites much?"


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This trend may help to explain shifting attitudes in Alberta's political scene, which this spring saw the poll juggernaut Wildrose Party come a distant second to the PCs in Alberta's latest provincial election.

Many watchers contributed the Wildrose implosion to comments made by controversial party candidates, which either offended or scared voters back to the PCs.

The Alberta Tories' ruling record is now 41 years, but they won their last mandate with a more economically centrist platform, augmented with a very socially liberal tone.

That trend may now be bleeding into federal politics in the province, with what is now a head-to-head contest in the coming Calgary Centre byelection.

The byelection, like all federal ballots in Calgary, are more or less considered Conservative coronations but the Liberal candidate in the riding, buoyed by support from some influential Tories in the city is now giving the Tory contender, Joan Crockatt, who was a Wildrose booster during the provincial ballot in her role as political commentator with Sun News, a run for her money. The race is now at a statistical-dead-heat.

The byelection, to replace former conservative MP Lee Richardson, will be held on Nov. 26.

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