Sherwood Park as Charlie Brown

Bad news all ’round!

Leastways, there was no really good news for any political party with a seat in Alberta’s Legislature in a new poll that was published Sunday in a subscriber-only newsletter with a history of having the inside track on the province’s politics.

The telephone survey of 900 Albertans conducted by Trend Research for Janet Brown Consulting and journalist Paul McLoughlin’s Alberta Scan newsletter was in the field from Jan. 17 to Jan. 24, just a night before Premier Ed Stelmach announced he was pulling the plug on life in politics. It shows every party coming up short of where it had hoped to be ’round about now.

The results of the poll show:

–    The governing Conservatives under Stelmach would have suffered a serious blow, losing 17 seats and leaving the party with a bare majority of 50 MLAs in the 87-seat Legislature.

–    The Wildrose Alliance would have made dramatic gains for a party that barely existed a year ago, but not dramatic enough to form a government, or have any hope of defeating it, with a tally of 29 seats.

–    The Liberals, who should have been able to exploit the split on the right between the Conservatives and the Wildrose Alliance, would have been reduced to a pathetic rump with only five seats, losing all their Calgary MLAs.

–    The New Democrats, hoping for an opposition beachhead as ever, would gain … only one. Total: three.

–    The Alberta Party, the new political kid on the block with one seat in the Legislature and the best political name since the Whigs would get … zip, zero, zilch. Nada. No seats. (Stand by for a round of optimistic Alberta Party Tweets, however!)

Brown, remember, is no piker when it comes to making election predictions. She has called the last two Alberta provincial general elections within three seats. Hers was the only estimate that came close in March 2008 — so close senior Conservatives laughed at her two weeks before the election when she predicted they would win 70 to 72 seats. (In the event, they won 72.)

Brown is also involved in a venture with McLoughlin offering presentations on Alberta’s political situation to corporate clients.

At any rate, her methodologically sound poll with a nice large sample should be taken seriously when it shows committed support levels at 40 per cent for the Conservatives (remember, this assumes the PCs were being led into an election by Stelmach), 33 per cent for the Wildrose Alliance, 19 per cent for the Liberals, eight per cent for the NDP and 0.1 per cent for the Alberta Party.

Obviously, the biggest gainer in this is the Alliance under leader Danielle Smith. But while such a result could only be described as a remarkable achievement for a party that had no representation in the House after the last general election, surely it is less than the Alliance hoped for given the way the Conservatives have appeared to be crumbling the past few months.

Forecast losses notwithstanding, things were not totally bleak for the Tories. If they can only choose the right leader — though it’s far from clear which one of the declared and likely candidates that would be — they could return to their role as Alberta’s Natural Governing Party.

As Brown told me last night, “every indication was that the Wildrose Party was looking forward to fighting Premier Stelmach in the next election. Their success in recent polls was likely a factor in Mr. Stelmach’s decision to step down. Now, they may be in a situation where they will be facing off against a more popular PC Party leader.”

It seems reasonable to conclude that the governing party’s polls were saying much the same thing as this one and the premier recognized the handwriting on the wall. (Which, as the Biblical scholars among you will recall, said, among other things, “you have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.”)

In other words, these results suggest that Stelmach did the right thing for his party, and notwithstanding Wildrose claims all Tory ministers are the same, the PCs could well stage a comeback under new leadership.

As for the parties of the centre left, the news is grimmer. The Liberals always assumed that they would be there to pick up the pieces when Albertans finally tired of the Conservatives. Instead, they appear to be riven by their own disputes, incapable of taking advantage of a moment in history that should have been theirs.

The New Democrats are stuck where they always are.

The Alberta Party, after all those coffee parties, has failed to register a blip on the provincial radar.

In the case of every one, it is ventured here, the problem is leadership — divisive in the first case, stodgy in the second, nonexistent in the third. These things could be fixed, but with the next election shaping up to be a contest between far right and farther right, they would have to be fixed pretty darn quickly to have any meaning.

Of course, this poll is a snapshot of things as they were at the end of January. Brown reports 23 per cent of respondents were undecided — and she made the assumption of dividing them in the same proportion as the decided vote.

Obviously, with leadership contests likely in three parties before the election, whenever it comes, there is room for movement here. But there is the possibility of things staying pretty much the same too.

If that happens, there could easily still be a Conservative majority in Edmonton when all the dust has settled.

This is something for Alberta’s chattering classes to keep in mind when they enthuse about the tectonic changes supposedly upon us!

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

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...