Rachel Notley in 2015

A new poll that shows the United Conservative Party dramatically leading the Alberta NDP is doubtless cause for serious concern for Premier Rachel Notley’s Government. It should be.

But is it the end of the world for the NDP? Hardly.

The survey of 2,100 voting-age Albertans on July 27 and 28 by Mainstreet Research shows the United Conservative Party with a decisive, apparently overwhelming province-wide lead among committed voters — 57 per cent.

As a result, Quito Maggi, president of the Toronto-based polling company, called this “the Summer of Love” for the UCP — which is a groovy line, even though the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties’ members had only voted to merge five days before the pollster started telephoning potential voters.

We’ll see if the love lingers as Albertans get to know the new party, or if familiarity breeds contempt.

But for now, the poll placed the NDP is up five points at 29 per cent, and the Alberta Party — which these days is doing its best to imitate the now defunct Progressive Conservatives — at 9 per cent province-wide. The Alberta Liberals, an engaging new leader in Calgary lawyer David Khan notwithstanding, have dipped below the radar.

Significantly, undecided numbers are very high — 27 per cent province-wide.

So if these numbers hold for a couple more years, yes, the results of a general election would resemble an Alberta conservative election sweep of old, something that could very well happen. So if you’re a progressive voter, the UCP will do its best to persuade you that outcome is inevitable … and suggest you might as well just tune in, turn on and drop out.

However, at the risk of sounding like a Pollyanna in orange-tinted granny glasses, it doesn’t have to be that way.

For one thing, the poll’s regional breakdown, if it holds, supports the conventional wisdom the battleground in the next election will be Calgary.

The traditionally conservative rural vote is almost certainly lost to the NDP, and Premier Notley’s New Democrats will be lucky if they salvage three or four rural seats. The obvious conclusion from this is that the NDP shouldn’t waste too much time or policy effort trying to shore it up.

But even mainstream media and its favoured analysts concede that the Mainstreet poll suggests the Edmonton area remains committed NDP territory, with Notley’s party holding close to half the predicted vote in the region.

So just as we thought all along, the battleground will almost certainly be in Calgary, where, it could be argued, the NDP is doing surprisingly well given the narrative we’ve all been fed for months by the media and the pre-UCP conservative parties, not to mention the economic difficulties of the past year.

With the NDP sitting at 32 per cent in Calgary, it has improved its support significantly after being unable to move the dial for months. The reason may well be the improvement already seen in the region’s economy, which shows signs of perking up further.

What’s more, at 14 per cent in Calgary, the Alberta Party, which calls itself progressive but advocates economic policies nearly identical to the pre-merger UCP, presents a significant and potentially soft target for the NDP in Cowtown.

Does that make winning Calgary easy for the NDP? Obviously not. But if the planets align, as they have before — you know, if the moon is in the seventh house — it may make it possible. So this may not be the beginning of the Age of Aquarius, but it’s worth the effort anyway.

A headline in Calgary Herald expressed wonderment that the UCP is attracting this kind of support when it doesn’t even have a leader yet. The real story is the opposite. The UCP will never be stronger than it is without a leader — especially if the leader turns out to be someone difficult to love like Jason Kenney, late of the PC Party and before that Stephen Harper’s Conservative cabinet in Ottawa.

In the unlikely event the rather more likeable Brian Jean, the former Wildrose leader, emerges as the winner, he will hardly look like a bright light compared to Premier Notley as the election expected in 2019 nears.

So is this the beginning of the end for the NDP or the high tide of movement conservatism in Alberta?

Too soon to tell.

One thing’s for sure, Wildrose 2.0 won’t threaten UCP hopes

Meanwhile, while the NDP should probably put some serious effort into discrediting the Alberta Party, which under Leader Greg Clark has drifted toward being just a conservative party with a human face, it needn’t bother wasting energy on the Wildrose 2.0 being touted to journalists in search of a new conservative horserace.

A Postmedia reporter squeezed a good yarn out of a meeting last weekend in an Edmonton-area industrial park by 50 or so disgruntled Wildrosers, unhappy with their party’s recent UCP shotgun wedding to the Progressive Conservatives. They dream of cooking up a new version of the Wildrose Party.

Alas for those of us who enjoy a good scrap on the right, numbers like the ones in the Mainstreet poll suggest there won’t be much appetite in conservative circles for this kind of scheming, at least until after the next general election, which is expected in 2019.

Kenney flip-flops on GSA outings

Finally, speaking as we were of Kenney, he may be pitching woo to Alberta’s social conservatives, but he’s also trying to give the impression to the rest of us he’s moving away from his past calls to out students who join gay-straight alliances in their schools

Calgary journalist Lucas Meyer yesterday Tweeted a link to a transcript of remarks by Kenney, in which the aspiring UCP leader seemed to be trying to suck and blow at the same time on the issue.

Claiming to have “no intention” of repealing the GSA law — which, after all, was a PC bill, so there’s no need to turn off the Legislative air conditioning — Kenney went on: “But I can see circumstances where it’s totally inappropriate for parents to be informed and circumstances where it’s entirely appropriate for them to help their kids if they’re going through a challenging time.”

Well, gee, that sounds reasonable, never mind that in most cases there’s no way for the “highly trained teachers, school counsellors and principals” who will wear the blame if something goes horribly wrong to tell which parents will react well, and which not so well, to the challenge of an institutional outing.

“This is not an issue that should be hyper-politicized,” scolded Kenney, who has done his best for weeks to hyper-politicize it.

Which is why, as low in the polls the NDP may seem just now, relatively speaking, Kenney may turn out to be Rachel Notley’s most formidable advantage.

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

Image: Flickr/premierofalberta

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David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...