Second thoughts?

April 1, 2015.

Dave Mabell


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One disapproving poll doesn’t guarantee political disaster for the province’s Conservatives.

But Lethbridge political scientists say it could force Premier Jim Prentice to have second thoughts about calling a spring election.

“We’ll see how the premier responds to his internal (party) polling,” says Geoffrey Hale, a member of the political science faculty at the University of Lethbridge. If they’re similar to the results of a poll released by a national polling firm Tuesday, he could wait for a better time.

A Mainstreet Technologies poll of more than 3,000 Albertans, taken after the Conservatives tabled their tax-hike budget, showed Prentice’s party tied with the opposition Wildrose party at 30 per cent support.

The pollsters also reported 44 per cent of those who responded said Alberta should raise its taxes on corporations – a move the government refuses to do – while 49 per disapproved of the budget overall.

Particularly in Edmonton, they added, the New Democrats are also benefitting from voters’ rejection of the long-ruling Conservatives and their latest leader. In that city, leader Rachel Notley and her candidates are polling at 43 per cent of the decided voters.

Political scientist Faron Ellis, who leads a political opinion survey project at Lethbridge College, noted the Mainstreet poll was “a snapshot” taken just as Albertans were responding to the government’s plans for cradle-to-grave tax hikes.

“But they have been very accurate in the last few elections they’ve tracked,” Ellis said.

“They had a large sample size, and the patterns were very similar to ours” in recent Citizen Society Research Lab surveys.

Mainstreet said that sample gives it a margin of error of just 1.8 per cent, plus or minus, 19 times out of 20.

Given the timing, Hale said, “It’s not surprising that the premier has had a bit of push-back.”

“The budget was heavy on slapping the general public,” but Albertans expected to see big business step up to the plate as well. “There was political room for an extra point on the business income tax,” he pointed out.

But instead Prentice – formerly a bank vice-president with CIBC – told Albertans any tax increase would drive the big companies out of the province.

Prentice had promised Albertans a “transformative” budget, Ellis noted.

“But instead he raised taxes across the board – 53 of them – while still running a deficit.

“He’s done nothing ‘transformational’, and a lot of people don’t like that business got off scott free.”

For Hale, last week’s document amounts to “a stop-gap budget.”

“The subtext is, ‘See us after the election.’”

How soon that will come is a little less certain, Hale added.

“A week ago, a lot of people thought he would do the cynical thing and take advantage of the opposition’s weakness.”

Prentice engineered that weakness, Hale asserts, by co-opting leader Danielle Smith and eight of her Wildrose cohorts and then “hanging them out to dry.”

Now Smith, Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Gary Bikman and central Alberta member Rod Fox – three of the nine who quit Wildrose – have lost their nominations while three more have walked away from politics.

Bikman and others, says Ellis, fell victim to local voters’ repulsion over Smith and most of her caucus seemingly abandoning their supporters. For once, he suggests, Albertans have drawn a political line in the sand.

“This flagrant opportunism has created a line that politicians can’t cross without raising the ire of the voters.”