Alberta United Conservative Party Premier Jason Kenney, literally partly lit by a gas fire, during his Facebook Live performance yesterday (Photo: Screenshot of Facebook Live).
Alberta United Conservative Party Premier Jason Kenney, literally partly lit by a gas fire, during his Facebook Live performance yesterday (Photo: Screenshot of Facebook Live).

How low can he go? 

It’s probably more than coincidence that the second poll in just over a week has placed Alberta Premier Jason Kenney at an approval rate of 22 per cent. 

Still, that’s pretty low no matter how you look at it. 

Right now, it’s as low as you can go if you’re a Canadian premier, according to the Angus Reid Institute, which published the poll yesterday. 

It’s lower than Rachel Notley ever went when she was premier of Alberta.

It’s exactly as low as the ThinkHQ Public Affairs Inc. poll put Kenney last week — so the good news for Alberta’s premier, if you happen to be an issues manager employed by his United Conservative Party anyway, is that his approval rating doesn’t seem to have fallen in the past week. 

According to the pollsters at Angus Reid, with a 9-per-cent slide in the past quarter, Kenney’s low approval rating hasn’t fallen quite as far as those of his fellow conservative premiers Blaine Higgs in New Brunswick and Scott Moe of Saskatchewan, who saw their approval ratings plunge 18 and 17 points respectively in the same period, to 43 and 38 per cent.

Higgs and Moe, however, still garnered more approval than two other Conservatives, Ontario’s Doug Ford (actually up a statistically insignificant 1 per cent) and Manitoba’s just-appointed temporary job holder, Kelvin Goertzen, of whom it’s probably fair to say it’s too soon to tell

The leaders, all tied at or near 56 per cent approval, were Newfoundland’s Andrew Furey, a Liberal, B.C.’s John Horgan, a New Democrat, Quebec’s François Legault, of the Coalition Avenir Québec, and Nova Scotia’s just-elected Tim Houston, apparently that rare bird, an actually progressive Conservative. 

As noted a week ago, when the ThinkHQ poll came out, lots of Albertans were inclined to doubt Kenney’s 22-per-cent approval number … because they thought it was way too high! 

According to the Angus Reid Institute’s analysis — and common sense from anyone who reads Alberta news daily — the proximate cause of Kenney’s, Moe’s and Higgs’s declining popularity seems to be their lousy performance dealing with COVID-19, lately in Higgs’s case, and right from the start of the pandemic for the other two. 

“It’s been a brutal fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Alberta, and after characterizing the pandemic as ‘over’ in July, Premier Jason Kenney is bearing the brunt of what was most definitely not the ‘best summer ever,'” said the pollster’s analysis of its results, rather mockingly. 

“Hospitals in the province — home to nearly half of Canada’s active cases — now depend on the help of Canadian military nurses, as Alberta deals with impact of ICUs full of patients with the infection,” the analysis went on, not entirely fairly, as there are fewer than a dozen military nurses in the province’s hospitals right now, compared with about 30,000 Registered Nurses alone employed in public health care. 

“Thanksgiving weekend brought no new restrictions to the province, instead Kenney pleaded with Albertans to avoid a repeat of last year when cases started to build after the holiday,” the analysis added — without commenting on the likelihood of Kenney’s pleas gaining any traction. (Hint: Probably less than his approval rate.)

So there will probably be a post-Thanksgiving uptick in new COVID-19 infections and deaths in Alberta in about a week and a half. 

So it seems unlikely that Kenney’s political troubles are over, whether or not the pro-vaccine Crips and anti-vaxx Bloods in his divided UCP caucus can get their act together enough to oust their boss.

The Reid poll was in the field from Sept. 29 to Oct. 3. It used a randomized panel of 5,011 Canadian adults who are members of the Angus Reid Forum, a pool of Canadians willing to take part in the pollster’s surveys. 

ThinkHQ also uses the Angus Reid Forum to ask its questions, which may explain the identical results in the approval category, and was in the field from Sept. 20 to 27. 

If yesterday’s Reid poll is to be believed, Kenney’s approval among Alberta voters fell only 9 per cent in the last quarter. 

So Alberta’s premier still has a little wiggle room. If it falls as much again in the next quarter, though, it’ll be at 13 per cent. If it fell as much as Higgs’s did, it’d hit 4 per cent!

Not saying those things will happen, of course. But it does raise the question for his friends and foes alike: How low can he go? 

A rare moment of honesty from Alberta’s premier

In a rare moment of honesty last night, Premier Kenney confessed that his anti-equalization referendum question is basically codswallop. 

Asked what impact ending equalization payments would have on Alberta during a Facebook Live session, Kenney responded: “The referendum on equalization is a chance for Albertans to say yes to our de… request for a fair deal in the Canadian federation.”

Then, he admitted: “Voting yes on this will not end equalization because it is a principle embedded in the constitution, Section 36, and it could only be amended out of the constitution with the consent I believe of seven provinces representing 50 per cent of the population plus both houses of the federal Parliament. And that’s just not going to happen.” (Emphasis added.)

He went on: “Our expectation is not that there will be a constitutional amendment or the end of equalization, but we’re using this to get leverage …”

If readers have the patience, they can listen for themselves. The question is at the 10:50 mark in his painfully long bloviations. 

The point here is that he has now admitted the question his referendum asks is constitutionally meaningless and quite deceptive. In the best of all possible worlds, that would be enough to persuade voters to vote no. 

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...