Public support falling for governing Tories, poll finds

By James Wood, Calgary Herald October 19, 2013

Premier Alison Redford’s government gets failing grades from the public for its handling of a half-dozen hot button files, from managing government finances to overseeing health care, according to a new poll commissioned by the Herald.

The Leger survey sees the Progressive Conservatives continuing to run neck-and-neck with the Wildrose in voter popularity, with the two parties locked in a statistical dead heat.

But the poll shows more than half of Albertans disapprove of the Tory government’s performance in six of 10 different areas and its ratings have dropped by 10 to 25 percentage points across the board since just before the provincial election in March 2012.

Ian Large, Leger’s Alberta vice-president, said he was surprised by the sharp drop for the PCs, but said it’s a carry-over from the bruising spring sitting of the legislature and its widely-criticized provincial budget.

“They were really getting hammered on all of these issues every day,” he said in an interview Friday.

“They haven’t had a chance to sort of rebuild their credibility and rebuild the approval on those things.”

Large said the government’s efforts to deal with June’s massive flooding — for which it had generally good reviews in a September poll — hasn’t boosted its fortunes in these other areas.

The Tories had their worst showing on management of government finances, with the approval of 20 per cent of respondents and the disapproval of 64 per cent.

Earlier this year, the provincial budget saw Alberta project its sixth straight deficit, even as the Tories throttled back spending.

Redford’s government has also embarked on a new borrowing plan for capital at the same time that it’s introduced a new way of presenting the government’s balance sheet.

Mount Royal University political analyst David Taras said the party is definitely suffering a hangover from the budget, which is also reflected in its poor rankings in areas such as handling savings and the Heritage Fund, education and health care.

“The budget cuts have hit and all of a sudden there are issues … that weren’t front and centre and are now top of mind for a lot of people,” Taras said.

With continuing problems in areas such as wait times and recent turmoil in Alberta Health Services, the Tories have a 57 per cent disapproval rating on health care compared to 29 per cent approval.

The government has also been battered by the opposition parties over a series of alleged ethical lapses in areas such as political donations and conflict of interest.

Only 22 per cent of respondents approve of the PC performance in running an open and honest government, while 61 per cent disapprove.

“This is a post-flood scorecard,” said Taras. “We’re back to hardball.”

Large noted the Tories are not doing well even in areas such managing as the economy — where it received a 52 per cent disapproval rate — despite the province’s robust economic health.

On taxes, where the PCs have made no significant changes, the government had a 44 per cent disapproval rate and 38 per cent approval.

Redford’s government received its highest marks in two areas, with 44 per cent approval and 33 per cent disapproval for its handling of crime and social issues.

On energy and oilsands development, the Tories have an approval rate of 45 per cent against 38 per cent disapproval.

Energy issues are the Conservatives strong point.

In a separate question, the PCs were ranked as the best party in Alberta to manage oilsands development, with 25 per cent support compared to Wildrose’s 19 per cent, 10 per cent for the Liberals and eight per cent for the NDP.

And 43 per cent of Albertans believe the federal and provincial governments have done a good job trying to convince the Obama administration to approve the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, compared to 30 per cent who disagree and 26 per cent who say they don’t know.

“They have been working very hard in getting in front of the right people in the U.S. and making the case. And they’ve been very good in making sure that we know that they’re making the case,” said Large.

When Albertans were asked who they would vote for if a provincial election were held now, the Wildrose Party would have the support of 33 per cent of decided voters while the PCs are at 31 per cent.

The Liberals are at 18 per cent support and the NDP are backed by 14 per cent of voters.

The numbers are essentially unchanged from the last Leger poll in September, though the Liberals have enjoyed a slight uptick.

Grant MacEwan University political scientist Chaldeans Mensah said the numbers aren’t good for the Tories, but the Wildrose Party should be doing better given the government’s negative report card.

“The Wildrose needs to do a better job to take advantage of the difficulties of the government,” he said.

“If they’re in a dead heat, amid all the dissatisfaction and the disapproval expressed by the public, it means the Wildrose can’t assume it’s simply going to be beneficiaries of any problems.”

Leger conducted an online survey of 1,686 eligible voters between Oct. 11 and Oct. 14. The margin of error for the total sample is plus or minus 2.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

[email protected]

© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald