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Unite-the-right poll results ring alarm bells and raise interesting questions, none of which are asked by the media

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Dave Rutherford

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Last week the busy guys at the Alberta Prosperity Fund put out a news release saying they'd done a poll that showed a unified Wildrose-Progressive Conservative Party would easily whip the New Democrats in an election if it were held today.

Alert readers will recall that Alberta Prosperity Fund and Advocacy Ltd. is a non-profit corporation run by Barry McNamar, a former Wildrose Party fund raiser. Nowadays, in addition to being president of APFA Ltd., McNamar is the Calgary-based vice-president of operations for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a Fraser-Institute-style right-wing think-tank that operates out of Winnipeg.

Ably assisted at the self-described "Super PAC" by spokesperson Dave Rutherford, a former right-wing talk-radio host, the company has been very active on social media soliciting contributions and promoting its version of a united right -- which just happens to make many supporters of the province's competing right-wing parties break out in hives.

An election isn't going to be held today or any time soon, of course, but the results of the poll done for APFA Ltd. nevertheless generated significant heat in the media, if not very much light.

The results suggested virtually every supporter of both the Wildrose Party and the PCs would blindly vote for any unite-the-right candidate presented to them on a ballot. Past research by other pollsters has indicated significant numbers of both parties' supporters reject the idea of voting for candidates too far to the left or the right of their political comfort zones.

So this set off alarm bells. Adding to the discomfort was the fact little is known about the firm doing the polling, Toronto-based Mission Research.

The survey was sharply criticized on the Progress Alberta site by pollster Quito Maggi, CEO of Mainstreet Research, who speculated it was a power play by the Wildrose Party to stampede doubting PCs into their tent.

Wildrose insiders, meanwhile, insisted they’re worried too, for the opposite reason. To wit, they say the idea is being pushed by PCs determined to climb back into the province’s right-hand-drivers seat. Wildrose Leader Brian Jean is publicly less specific in his criticism, but recently described such political action committees as "self-interested," "interfering," and "trying to push themselves in front of the parade."

Maggi complained that there's no information on the online panel Mission Research used or anything about previous work done by the firm. Others sharply disputed Mission's claim its survey "was completed online using a randomly-selected, representative sample of 1,500 eligible Alberta voters" on the basis no online panel can be called randomly selected or representative.

"The profile of a typical WRP supporter is very different than a PC supporter, ‎they share views on some economic policy but that's where the similarities end," Maggi told Progress Alberta.

Eventually there will be enough polling to get a handle on what Albertans are likely to actually do come the next election.

In the meantime, though, this situation raises some interesting questions about others who have a degree or two of separation from APFA Ltd.

Progress Alberta reported that the pollster behind Mission Research, Heather Scott-Marshall, is also doing surveys for the Calgary-based Manning Centre. Manning Centre founder Preston Manning, of course, has been up to his elbows in behind-the-scenes attempts to unite the Wildrose Party and the PCs, whether their supporters like it or not, most famously in December 2014.

When APFA Ltd. announced its plans in a Calgary Herald story back in November 2015, McNamar described it as having "a shorter-term partisan objective of unifying what we call the common-sense vote." It is not clear how this partisanship squares with the Frontier Centre’s claimed independent status. It may be relevant that nowhere on its website does the Frontier Centre use the word non-partisan to describe its activities.

Then there's the recently controversial matter of the media in this province and how they report the news.

APFA Ltd. hired a polling firm no one had ever heard of. That firm came up with results that perfectly matched the sponsor’s preferred outcome. Then the mainstream media reported this as legitimate news without asking any of the obvious questions.

No wonder no one can figure out who the legitimate journalists are in this province!

Alberta government to release mental health review today

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman will meet journalists -- along, presumably, with anyone who wants to claim they are a journalist -- in Calgary this morning to release the report of the province’s Mental Health Review Committee.

The review of addictions and mental health services was ordered by the government in June 2015, just days after the election of an NDP majority in the May 5 general election. The review was conducted by a committee co-chaired by Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann, a respected legislator and a physician, and New Democrat Danielle Larivee, a Registered Nurse. Larivee is now the minister of municipal affairs and human services.

Public consultations were conducted in the fall.

Given the gravity of the public health crisis caused by the presence on Alberta’s streets of the powerful opioid-replacement drug Fentanyl, overdoses from which killed at least 270 Albertans in 2015, the committee released its recommendations on addictions early, in November 2015.

Those recommendations, now being implemented, included immediate access to harm-reduction tools, including Naloxone antidote kits to medical teams, police and law enforcement, outreach workers, and nurse practitioners administering methadone, as well as better access to needle exchange programs.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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