Sunday, June 24, 2007

Alberta is Ripe for Change - But What Change Means is Still an Open Question

Ipsos Reid has it figured right when they say the Stelmach Honeymoon is over based on their recent poll results. The fact that all parties are showing support levels that are the same as the 2004 election means politically Alberta is right back at square one in figuring out what kind of changes it wants in government. The PCs support is again at 47%, the Libs at 29%, the NDP at 10% and the Alberta Alliance at 9%. But there is so much more of interest as one delves into the devilling details.

Conventional wisdom is that Alberta majority governments are the result of the rural vote and one major city. In the Klein days that city was Calgary. Today we see Calgary and Edmonton reversing roles, if these poll results are meaningful and they hold until the next election. The PCs are down 8 points in Calgary support (now at 42%) but they are up 12 points in Edmonton enjoying 47% support and they are holding their own in the rest of Alberta up 2 points to 53% support.

Calgary is feeling the Stelmach PCs are not as “into them” as the Klein version was and only 33% believe the current government is addressing their needs. This is even with a large majority of PC MLAs and 5 Cabinet members now representing that city. A public spat between the Calgary Mayor and the Premier fueled by Calgary MSM has done its work.

Curiously, 58% of Edmontonians believes the Stelmach PCs “get them.” This is with only 3 PC MLAs, two of whom are now in Cabinet and one of those MLAs had to go to Court to get a recount and slipped in with a 12 vote margin.

Klein was always more popular than the PC party and he traditionally polled in the low to mid 70s for personal support. Stelmach has personal support in the 54% range and the trend is down. Again his numbers are warped by the Calgary discontent where they don’t like him on a 2 to 1 ratio. One has to wonder if this angst is more about Dinning’s leadership loss than the consequences of Stelmach’s actual win. Calgary did not see this coming and they don’t know what happened or how to interpret it – so they seem to conclude that it must be bad.

Again Edmonton is in a reverse contrast from the Klein years where he had low Edmonton support except in the 1997 election when he was rewarded with more Edmonton seats for a good job on debt and deficit. Today Edmonton is about 60-40 in support of Stelmach and Ed is enjoying his best support in the deep south, right there in Ted Morton Reformer country. The approval rating for Stelmach there is 70-30…that rivals Ralph Klein results. Not bad for a PROGRESSIVE Conservative from the north.

Interestingly, while the Liberal Party support is at 29%, up 9 points since April and 7 points since November 2006, Kevin Taft’s personal support is up only 5 points since April and is actually down 5 points from November when Klein was still around. His job is not all that secure either it seems.

All this says Albertans are still looking for a change but they have not yet found the kind of change they want. They have not yet abandoned the PCs for the Liberals and they have not tossed Stelmach aside for Taft. This means all possible scenarios are at play and nothing can be taken for granted by anyone, especially the Stelmach PCs.

The PCs can easily lose the next election but it will be their own fault, not the result of a perceived positive Liberal alternative. The Liberals do not yet seem to have the right stuff to convince Albertans that they are positive choice for government. Currently they are just an alternative to the PCs. In the real world of electoral politics, that is enough for the Liberals to get power and form the next government. But if that happens, based on what we know from the polls today, Liberals forming a government will be because the PCs let that happen.

The battle for the hearts, minds and hopes of Albertans is on now and fully engaged, even though the election may be a much as a year away. It is going to be interesting.