Thomson: Redford’s approval rating tumbles

By Graham Thomson, Edmonton Journal April 8, 2013

EDMONTON – Alberta’s next provincial election is still, by my estimation, approximately 36 months away. So it is perhaps unfair and probably foolhardy to pay much attention to a public-opinion poll released on Monday that indicates Premier Alison Redford is about as popular with Albertans as another spring snowstorm.

But, heck, it’s just too irresistible.

The Angus Reid survey shows Redford has a dismal 29-per-cent approval rating among Albertans. That’s down from 47 per cent in December and 55 per cent last August.

Losing 26 percentage points — or almost half her approval rating — in seven months is the political equivalent of going over a cliff.

At this rate she’ll be at zero by November.

I’m being facetious, of course. Even in the darkest days of his unpopularity, former Premier Ed Stelmach never hit zero per cent. But he came close, sinking to a 14-per-cent approval rating in 2009. In 2010, he managed a dead cat bounce to 16 per cent, shortly before he quit.

Redford still has three years to turn things around and it’s not unusual for a government to hit a patch of unpopularity, especially after delivering a widely criticized budget that manages to break a shopping list of promises made during a provincial election just one year ago.

In fact, precisely one year ago Redford promised a three-year, $650-million investment in capital projects for colleges and universities across the province. “There’s no doubt that post-secondary institutions in this province, no matter where they are, are the key to our future success,” Redford declared at the time.

For Redford, it was all about winning over Albertans who normally voted NDP or Liberal.

She wanted to prove that when it came to being a Progressive Conservative, she was more progressive than conservative.

However, by the time Redford rolled out this year’s provincial budget, she wanted to prove she was more conservative than progressive. She cut the investment in post-secondary capital to $282 million and she slashed $147 million from the post-secondary operational budget.

To prove that commitment to conservatism she was also willing to alienate teachers and nurses and doctors by demanding they accept a wage freeze.

This is at the heart of the disconnect between the warm and fuzzy Redford of the 2012 election and the hard-nosed Redford of 2013. And it is why so many “progressive” voters feel betrayed.

The premier, though, had also managed to alienate conservatives by failing to balance the 2013-14 budget and, despite another promise she made a year ago, the province is heading back into debt.

Then there are the tortured arguments Redford delivers when she’s refusing to address her broken promises or splitting hairs over the definition of the word “deficit.”

It is perhaps no wonder that many Albertans who supported Redford as an agent of change a year ago now see her as just another promise-breaking politician.

Redford seems poised to break yet another election promise by looking at increasing the province’s price on large industrial carbon emissions from $15 a tonne to $40 per tonne. Environmentally, this is actually a good step in helping the province reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, it doesn’t go far enough for many experts who say her government needs to implement a $100 per tonne tax to cut emissions significantly.

In typical fashion, Redford is now being criticized by environmentalists who say she’s not going far enough and she’s being attacked by the Wildrose for going too far.

It is no wonder her numbers are dropping — she’s alienating everybody.

Conversely, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith is up in the popularity polls after working to soften her political image by urging her party members to scrap some of the party’s more right-wing policies from the last election that would have, for example, eliminated the Human Rights Commission.

According to the Angus Reid poll, Smith now enjoys an approval rating of 53 per cent.

No doubt Smith is also enjoying the traditional see-saw of mid-term politics where governments tend to drop in popularity while opposition parties rise. A lot can happen between now and the next election.

There is, however, another issue at play here.

The next election might be three years away but Redford’s next vote is only seven months away. She faces a mandatory leadership review at the PC’s annual convention in November.

Party members might have second thoughts about supporting her if her approval rating doesn’t improve. That’s not to say she’ll get less than 50 per cent of delegate support. But anything less than 70 per cent and she’ll be in trouble. Keep in mind Stelmach received 77 per cent at his party vote and he was forced out 14 months later.

The knives aren’t out for Redford yet. But PC members have demonstrated a talent for dipping into the cutlery drawer at a moment’s notice.

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