By Dave Mabell
Southern Alberta Newspapers — Lethbridge
Is the honeymoon really over?
Across Alberta, according to the latest poll results, there’s no doubt Rachel Notley and her New Democrats have fallen from favour after 18 months in power.
“A year and a half after its stunning victory in the 2015 Alberta provincial election, the governing NDP has fallen to third place among decided voters,” reports Faron Ellis, analyzing results from the latest Citizen Society Research Lab survey by students at Lethbridge College.
But while the New Democrats have lost support, he says, it hasn’t moved to the Wildrose official opposition.
While Wildrose numbers have also slipped from a year ago, the once-invincible Progressive Conservatives are back on top.
Ellis says the province-wide poll shows the PCs now have the support of 38.4 per cent of decided voters, compared with 25.7 per cent for Wildrose and 19.7 for the New Democrats.
Figures from the survey, conducted during the first week of October, are considered accurate within 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Last October, the NDP remained in first place with 31.1 per cent support, while PCs were second with 28.7 and the Wildrose trailed with 26.3 per cent of decided voters. The Alberta Liberals’ support remains below 10 per cent.
But PC support, Ellis points out, seems based on voters’ hope the party will be able to bring Wildrose MLAs and supporters back into its ranks.
Responding to a related question, the 1,513 adult Albertans polled at random voiced strong support for a “unite the right” initiative. Ellis says more than 66 per cent who expressed an opinion want to see the two factions merge and “present voters with a unified right-of-centre alternative in the next provincial election.”
While former Harper cabinet minister Jason Kenney is the most vocal proponent of the unite-the-right idea, Ellis reports more Wildrose supporters (45.2 per cent) say they strongly support the move even through Kenney is hoping to lead the rival PC party.
Just 33.6 per cent of those polled who’d vote Conservative are strongly in favour of a merger.
“There’s a lot of brand loyalty among the PCs,” he points out.
Some could strongly oppose a merger with their competitors.
“So we could still see the vote splintering on the right.”
That would help the governing party, of course, and so could steadily rising oil prices.
While some Albertans who voted NDP in 2015 are considering their option, Ellis notes, few are warming up to Wildrose.
“Wildrose has not had a great summer,” and it persists in its negative response to everything the government proposes. “It still has its ‘bozo’ eruptions.”
And the New Democrats continue to hold their core strength, particularly around Edmonton.
“It’s not game over for the NDP,” which isn’t due to face the electorate until 2019. “They’ve done so many things, very rapidly,” he says, in a province that’s not accustomed to political change. If economic recovery remains slow, the government may have to defer some of its plans.
“But if there’s a pipeline or two,” voters may be forgiving.
For now, Ellis says the Alberta government is following the same strategy as many others.
“They’re doing the ‘heavy lifting’ during their first two years,” so they can settle down to present some “good news” budgets before the next provincial election.