We’ve not seen anything like it in Alberta politics for a long while.
The Progressive Conservatives are scared for good reason, following the release of an Angus Reid survey last week that shows the Tories in second place — for the first time since the beginning of life on Earth.
Well, maybe not that long, but certainly for the first time in years. The result is we are hearing public expressions of fear by Tory MLAs themselves.
The Angus Reid survey in late November polled 1,000 Albertans. It found that 39 per cent of decided voters, if an election were held tomorrow, would vote for Wildrose Alliance and their leader Danielle Smith.
The Ed Stelmach Tories would tie, with David Swann and the Liberals, for second place, with only 25 per cent of decided voters. Fourth spot went to the NDP and leader Brian Mason at nine per cent. Two per cent said they would vote for another party.
The online poll randomly selected 1,000 Albertans in the last week of November. The results have a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Mary Anne Jablonski, MLA for Red Deer North and minister for Seniors and Community Supports, told the Advocate Friday that people are focused on things that have gone wrong.
“I think the poll makes me take a step back and, at the same time, I know I’m working very hard on behalf of my constituents and all Albertans and know that it’s a difficult time for all governments across the country,” said Jablonski.
Probably no single reason explains the Tories being slapped so hard in the poll. It’s more likely a combination of issues — concern over Stelmach’s leadership; failure by Tories to see the party in the same light as many voters do; the sense of entitlement, and therefore arrogance, that long-governing parties tend to have; the end of the boom and then the recession; the mishandling of the H1N1 immunization program; concern over health care in general; continuing issues regarding new power transmission lines in Alberta; concerns about MLA pay; and on and on it goes.
While the electorate will always have issues with the government of the day, after awhile the list gets very long and, in Alberta at least, when the tide begins to turn, it does so in a big way.
Albertans have been a very forgiving group of voters but the Tories days of mercy may be coming to a close via a new political party whose policies are little known let alone understood, and with a leader whose political life accomplishment so far was as a member of the Calgary board of education 10 years ago.
But Smith is no flash in the pan. That’s evident in the Angus Reid poll. Her test is to carry momentum through to the next election. She doesn’t need a big political portfolio. She just needs to continue to play off the Tories’ shortcomings in a credible fashion, while at the same time laying out policies your average small-c conservative Albertan could live with.
The Tories think that the poll results largely reflect concern over what’s been going on in the economy.
It’s just not that simple.
Mary-Ann Barr is Advocate assistant city editor. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 403-314-4332.