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Alberta Diary

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David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

Most of us are happy at 29 … but maybe not Alberta's premier

| April 10, 2013

Most of us are happy at 29. The world is our oyster. The future looks bright.

Alison Redford at 29? Not so good. 

But then, we’re talking percentage points here, not years.

A 29-per-cent approval rating is a problem.

The Alberta premier was in Washington, D.C., yesterday trotting out the line heard recently at the Manning Centre "Big Ideas" Conference that a pipeline full of Alberta bitumen might actually be doing Earth a big favour on the planetary warming front.

Opponents of the Keystone XL Pipeline, Redford told a crowd of curious Americans at the venerable Brookings Institution think tank, "proclaim that either you stand against the oilsands, or you write off the environment, along with any hope for a sustainable existence. That is completely wrong." 

Instead, hecklers notwithstanding, the Progressive Conservative premier said Alberta is one of the most environmentally friendly jurisdictions in the world.

Well, good luck with that one. But even if it's true, and even if her mission to the Imperial City works out the way she hopes, it isn't going to help with the problem that really bedevils her, the one summed up in that awful number 29.

As noted, that is the percentage of Albertans qualified to vote in a provincial election who approve of the job Redford is doing, at least according to the Angus Reid polling company's highly entertaining periodic horserace survey of how Canada's premiers and their chief opponents are getting along with the people who give them their jobs.

Who knows if this online poll of 7,091 Canadian voters is perfectly accurate? It's certainly a guide to how well the premiers and their opposition leaders are doing, and Redford is not doing very well at all.

This is especially true when you consider her white-knuckle drop of 18 points from the last time the pollster did the survey in December 2012 and the truly terrifying plunge of 26 points from a positive 55-per-cent rating her reputation with voters was enjoying the previous August. 

We're almost talking Christie Clark numbers here -- according to the same survey, the B.C. premier is at an approval rating of 25 per cent. In just over a month we should know for sure what happens to Western Canadian premiers with those kind of approval ratings -- unless, of course, Clark's B.C. Liberals manage to find a way to evade their own fixed-election-date legislation and skid Clark into Victoria Harbour while they stall and find a replacement for her.

Actually, we already know what’s likely to happen with numbers like those. Both former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and former Quebec Premier Jean Charest had similar approval numbers of 32 per cent in the previous Reid premiers' popularity survey and they’re both gone now -- the former into retirement and the latter to electoral defeat.

Worse, like British Columbia. where half the respondents (49 per cent) approved of New Democrat Opposition Leader Adrian Dix's performance, fully 53 per cent of the survey's respondents in Alberta gave Wildrose Opposition Leader Danielle Smith the thumbs up. (They liked New Democrat Leader Brian Mason and Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman better too -- with both at 34 per cent. And Saskatchewanians still love Brad Wall, the Mr. Congeniality of Confederation, but you can read about him and all the rest of them for yourself if you're so inclined.)

Spin all this stuff however you like -- and unlike Clark, Redford won't have to prove anything in a provincial general election for three years -- what this obviously means is that an awful lot of Albertans are no longer buying what their premier is selling.

It's no wonder, really. First she successfully built a grand alliance with the province's progressive voters to defeat Smith and the hard-right Wildrose Party, then she turned on them in last month’s hard-line budget, which was apparently designed to appeal to the voters she’d lost to the Wildrose. Now, as Edmonton Journal political columnist Graham Thomson observed, nobody likes her! And that was before the "Bitumen Bubble" she used as an excuse went pfffft!

With a popularity plunge like the one the Reid poll indicates, it's probably not too strong to say Redford's reputation has been obliterated -- which means her party is going to have to decide at their mandatory leadership review next November if they want to stick with her and be obliterated too.

Obviously her recent charm offensive -- chatty visits to the Press Gallery and all that -- hasn’t been very charming. 

Which brings us back to yesterday's junket to Washington. 

Premier Redford seems to be labouring under the impression that if she, or someone, can persuade American President Barack Obama to OK Keystone XL to export Alberta's oilpatch jobs to Texas, all will be forgiven.

Now, why Obama would feel the need to do that is not at all clear when the pipeline not only faces powerful opposition from the president's own supporters but passes through states that could be fairly termed Mitt Romney territory in the U.S. presidential election last November. But -- who knows? -- maybe he will.

But if he does, it's said here this doesn’t translate into a political victory for Redford for two reasons.

First, regardless of what you hear from Conservative and Wildrose circles, support for the pipeline is far from universal here in Alberta -- especially among the progressive voters Redford wooed away from their traditional parties a year ago and then kicked to the curb in her last budget.

Second, because the voters who want the pipeline will thank Mr. Obama, not Redford, for the approval.

Redford is 48.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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