A couple of new polls from the Angus Reid Institute point to bad news for Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and his governing United Conservative Party.
Amidst controversy around the province’s back-to-school plan and an uncertain future for the oil and gas industry, Kenney and his party’s favourability have crashed, leaving them tied with the rival NDP in prospective voters’ minds.
According to a poll released Monday, only 38 per cent of Alberta voters would vote for the UCP if an election were held tomorrow — identical to the 38 per cent who would vote for Rachel Notley’s NDP.
WATCH: Kenney says COVID-19 cases in Alberta schools “inevitable.” Story continues below.
That’s a sharp decline from the 55 per cent of the popular vote Kenney and the UCP took in the 2019 provincial election, which saw the United Conservative leader storm to a majority government in the province on the back of the highest voter turnout since 1982.
But three out of 10 Albertans who voted for the UCP in 2019 say they will now take their vote elsewhere, with many defecting to the Alberta Party or “Wexit”-adjacent Alberta Independence Party. Nine per cent of voters would choose the Alberta Party, while six percent would vote for the Alberta Indepence Party and seven percent would vote for a different party.
According to the pollster, the UCP’s slip likely has a lot to do with the government’s handling of the pandemic. Spurred by public battles between Health Minister Tyler Shandro and the province’s doctors and alongside a controversial back-to-school plan, three out of five Albertans said the province has done a poor job handling health care.
The poll’s authors suggested that Shandro’s “adversarial” tone with Alberta doctors soured the government’s public opinion rating.
“Though the tone from both sides has mellowed lately, it was presumably jarring to many in the province that the relationship between the province’s doctors and the UCP government was overtly hostile while the pandemic ramped up in Alberta,” they wrote.
Support for the UCP fell most among middle-aged voters (35-54): only 35 per cent would pick the UCP if an election was held tomorrow, compared to 55 per cent in 2019. The decrease in middle-aged voters — the demographic most likely to have school-aged children — could be tied to the province’s maligned back-to-school plan. As of Monday, there are COVID-19 cases in at least 40 schools across the province, many of which reopened with no two-metre physical distancing requirements or limits on class sizes.
Pollsters described a “sense of angst among parents around returning to school during a pandemic.”
Alberta currently has the second-highest per capita number of COVID-19 cases after Quebec.
Not much better for Kenney
Things aren’t looking good for Kenney personally, either.
Another Angus Reid Institute poll released at the end of August saw Kenney’s favourability slide once again, giving him the second lowest approval rating out of all Canadian premiers, after newly elected Newfoundland Premier Andrew Furey.
The poll conducted on Aug. 20 saw Kenney’s approval rating plummet to 42 per cent — the lowest rating since he took office in April 2019. Notably, almost every other premier has seen an increase in approval since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Albertans have grown increasingly critical of his government’s response to the coronavirus and the province’s finances are in historically poor shape with oil revenues plummeting and pandemic-related economic shocks persisting,” the poll’s authors wrote.
Dissatisfied Albertans are going to have to wait a lot longer until they can express those opinions in the voting booth, though. With a majority UCP government in place, another election isn’t scheduled until spring 2023.
A lot can change in two and half years.