Opposition leads Alta. gov’t as election looms

The polling results become narrower when voters are asked for their impressions of the NDP and UCP leaders

The Alberta election has not yet been called but political watchers agree the campaign is already well under way.

The vote must take place sometime between March 1 and May 31. Zack Ziolkowski, Alberta counsel with the legal and lobby firm that represents Alberta agricultural groups to government, predicted an April 15 election when he spoke to farmers Feb. 28.

A Jan. 22 poll of voter intentions conducted by Mainstreet Research indicated 48 percent favoured the United Conservative Party, 25 percent would vote NDP, six percent Alberta Party, five percent Liberal and 11 percent undecided.

“I don’t think that will change much,” Ziolkowski told those at a Team Alberta event.

Team Alberta comprises Alberta wheat, barley, pulse and canola growers and involves about 20,000 Alberta farmers.

When it comes to voter impressions of the party leaders, the statistics are closer. A Mainstreet Research poll also from Jan. 22 showed 37 percent have a positive impression of Premier Rachel Notley of the NDP, while 49 percent view her negatively. In comparison, 40 percent view UCP leader Jason Kenney positively and 33 percent negatively.

A February poll by Think HQ showed somewhat closer leader impressions. In that survey, 44 percent see Notley positively and 51 percent view her negatively. Kenney’s figures show 43 percent positive and 45 percent negative.

The election is shaping up to be a two-horse race because 69 percent of those polled were not sure about their impressions of Liberal party leader David Khan and 59 percent were unsure of their impressions of Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel.

Ziolkowski, who worked in the past for former Progressive Conservative leaders Alison Redford and Jim Prentice, said the UCP and Kenney are more popular in rural Alberta than in urban centres. It is a challenge for the party.

“What I’ve seen from the UCP is they are attempting (to get) people to know Jason Kenney,” he said in an interview.

“(Kenney) is a little bit of an unknown, especially in the big cities. More so in Edmonton than Calgary since he is from a Calgary riding, but they are wanting to introduce him to Albertans, so Albertans can get to know him as a person and not just as a politician from Ottawa.”

Kenney held several federal portfolios as an MP in the Stephen Harper government before winning leadership of the provincial UCP, a merger of the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties.

The governing NDP strategy is focused on the popularity of the premier, Ziolkowski said.

“Notley’s great. Notley’s really popular. She’s really charismatic and I think that that is what Kenney is up against and I think his team is probably going to try to get him to the same level.”

He suggested Notley is seen as the NDP’s best asset, while Kenney is seen as the UCP’s biggest threat.

“We’re hearing that a lot and it shows in the NDP branding as well. On their literature, on their website, on their signs, everything that they’re doing right now it’s going to say Rachel’s team or Rachel Notley. It doesn’t say NDP anywhere….

“Clearly they are branding it as the Rachel Notley team because she is polling way above the party. She is a very great advantage to them. She’s likable. She’s really smart. So, it makes sense for them to sell that as opposed to what many think are not the greatest economic policies.”

As an exercise, Ziolkowski crunched the numbers had the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties merged into the UCP before the last provincial election in 2015. They showed the UCP would have won a majority government with 52 seats and the NDP would been the official opposition with 35.

For this election, there are 87 seats in the Alberta legislature and none of the parties have yet nominated a full slate of candidates, according to Ziolkowski’s figures.

As of late last month, the UCP had 82 nominated candidates, followed by the NDP with 68 and the Alberta Party with 65. The Liberal, Freedom Conservative and Green parties will likely be unable to field full slates.

Ziolkowski said the Alberta Party has been touted by some as being “the next big thing” in Alberta politics but its fundraising of about $600,000, compared to more than $6.5 million raised by the UCP, indicates it has some ground to make up.

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