Alberta Premier Jason Kenney in a recent, more optimistic, moment (Image: Chris Schwarz/ Government of Alberta).
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney in a recent, more optimistic, moment (Image: Chris Schwarz/ Government of Alberta).

All of political Alberta was agog yesterday at the revelation 77 per cent of adult Albertans disapprove of Premier Jason Kenney’s leadership according to a recent online survey by ThinkHQ Public Affairs Inc.

The premier’s approval rating, which the Calgary-based polling company characterized as tumbling, has now reached 22 per cent, said ThinkHQ President Marc Henry, prompting the pollster to comment in the spirit of the pandemic moment that “Jason Kenney is a leader on life-support, and his prognosis is not good.”

Indeed, the pandemic has plenty to do with it. “There is no doubt that COVID-19 is the origin of much of Kenney’s troubles,” Henry added, noting accurately that “in many respects, he has been the architect of his own misfortune.”

“The political gamble that was ‘The Best Summer Ever’ is now taking a punishing toll both politically for the leader and in real human costs for Albertans and the health care system,” Henry went on, to which one can only add a hearty, No Kidding! 

“We have not seen a sitting premier with numbers this low in almost a decade,” Henry observed grimly on his company’s website. “Alison Redford resigned the day it was revealed her approval at the time had dropped to 18 per cent. That’s a ‘margin of error’ difference from Kenney’s results today.”

So there you have it, folks. It’s at least semi-official. Premier Kenney is now down there in Alison Redford territory and you can almost hear the whistle of the axe heading for his neck. 

But at 22 per cent, I have to say I was surprised that many Albertans still approve of Kenney. 

I’m not kidding. Matt Wolf and all the other United Conservative Party “issues managers” using a variety of aliases must be members of the Angus Reid Forum panel Henry used to get a number that high! 

I’d bet you money the UCP’s own polling is considerably worse — at least, if they’re not so depressed they’ve stopped polling altogether. 

Indeed, a Sept. 20-27 survey by EKOS pegged support for Kenney’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic at 11 per cent.

Now, you can argue that the two polls measure apples and oranges — approval of Kenney’s overall governing (very low) and approval of his efforts on the pandemic file (even lower) — but if you ask me, at this point the two questions are all but one and the same in the minds of most Albertans. 

You don’t need a pollster to tell you Kenney isn’t very popular any more. All you have to do to is join a socially distanced line up for a grocery store cashier or a bank machine almost anywhere in Alberta to hear what folks have to say about our premier — which can be characterized as deep and abiding contempt. 

Kenney was never an overwhelmingly popular premier, Henry noted in his commentary on the poll, which used a 1,116-member online panel and was in the field for three days from Wednesday to Friday last week. 

Well, he’s even less so now. It’s worth noting that according to ThinkHQ, 61 per cent of the respondents were in the strongly disapprove category. 

Perhaps worse, from the UCP perspective, Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley seems to be doing much better. “Kenney’s chief political rival…has seen public appraisals of her performance notch up slightly since July, currently sitting at 50 per cent approval (32 per cent strong approval) versus 47 per cent disapproval (39 per cent strong).”

And there’s no safe demographic for Kenney. City and country…Edmonton and Calgary…women and men…oldsters and young people…rich and poor…nobody much likes the guy, according to ThinkHQ. 

Well, these kind of numbers add up to existential-threat territory for the UCP, so despite the fragile truce Kenney cobbled together on Sept. 22 to keep his job, various factions of the disunited party will be sharpening their knives in hopes of saving their own hides. 

Unfortunately for them, what might save an MLA’s skin in vaccine-refusenik rural Alberta isn’t necessarily the same thing as what could work in vaccine-affirming Calgary. 

“The UCP is an electoral creature, sewn together from two rival conservative parties primarily to unseat the NDP government,” Henry observed in his commentary. “In the face of this prolonged and punishing pandemic, the creature is tearing itself apart at the stitches.”

Indeed, it is easy to conclude that the re-animation of the Wildrose Party as a well-funded right-wing threat to the Progressive Conservatives after the 2008 provincial election has created a permanent rift in Alberta’s conservative movement that never really went away.

With the NDP increasingly established in the minds of so many Albertans as the party of the sensible centre and the cautious and competent Rachel Notley still at the helm, that could be very bad news for the parties of the right. 

David J. Climenhaga

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 Globe...