Alberta government ranks last among provinces for public perception of pandemic response: poll

Alberta’s United Conservative Party has the lowest public satisfaction in its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic of any provincial government — by a large and growing margin, a new poll suggests.

Only 27 per cent of respondents in Alberta said they were “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with how Premier Jason Kenney and his government managed the crisis, according to the Leger poll released this week.

More than half of respondents in every other province said they were satisfied with their governments’ handling of COVID-19, suggests the online poll from Leger conducted between Dec. 30 and Jan. 3. 

Kenney’s government lagged a full 30 percentage points below the second lowest ranked, Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government, which satisfied 57 per cent of respondents in that province, the poll suggests. 

The poll suggests satisfaction with how other provincial governments handled the pandemic ranked at:

  • 78 per cent satisfaction in the Atlantic provinces (which were grouped together in the poll).
  • 72 per cent for Premier François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec government in Quebec.
  • 69 per cent for Premier John Horgan and his NDP government in British Columbia.
  • 66 per cent for Brian Pallister’s PCs in Manitoba and 58 per cent for Scott Moe’s Saskatchewan Party in that province, although both had smaller sample sizes so the results might be less accurate.

The territories weren’t included in the poll.

Poll happened as UCP faced travel controversy

The poll was conducted in the midst of ballooning controversy over recent international visits by members of Kenney’s cabinet, caucus and key staff amid a pandemic that has given Alberta at times the highest total COVID-19 case count of any province.

After CBC News revealed that his then minister of municipal affairs, Tracy Allard, had vacationed in Hawaii with her family over Christmas, Kenney held a news conference last Friday to say he would not fire or demote Allard or others in government who travelled, as they did not break the law.

Kenney said he hadn’t been clear with staff about whether they should be travelling — but critics pointed out his own government has warned for months against non-essential travel. 

The cries of elitism and hypocrisy continued to mount amid outrage from many Albertans who had been abiding by increasingly strict COVID-19 restrictions set out by the provincial government. 

On Monday, after the polling period, the government did an about-face. Kenney accepted the resignations of Grande Prairie MLA Tracy Allard as minister of municipal affairs and Jamie Huckabay as his chief of staff. Kenney also demoted five other UCP MLAs who travelled internationally over the holidays. 

Continuing drop fits with previous polls 

Kenney’s government faced criticism for weeks in the fall and early winter when it resisted calls to impose tougher restrictions despite new infections soaring. At one point, Alberta had more active cases than Ontario, which has more than three and a half times the population.

The total number of active cases in Alberta only began to slowly decline after the government heeded those calls, from a peak of 21,138 on Dec. 13, the day after a raft of new provincial restrictions went into effect, to 13,839 active cases on Monday. 

The latest poll isn’t the first to suggest Alberta’s government has the lowest level of satisfaction among Canada’s 10 provincial governments.

Last week, another Leger poll that looked at the various premiers’ handling of the crisis — conducted Dec. 4 to Dec. 20 — suggested Kenney’s satisfaction rate was 30 per cent — or three per cent higher than his current ranking.

At that point, one other premier had less than 50 per cent satisfaction — Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe, at 39 per cent. Moe’s government has also been criticized for not responding sooner to a steady increase in infections. 

Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said the continuous drop of satisfaction in Alberta fits with previous polls.

WATCH | Kenney demotes 6 MLAs after holiday travels:

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has stopped excusing members of his government for travelling outside the country over the holidays while the public was urged to stay home. He demoted six MLAs, including a cabinet minister, after public rage boiled over. 2:11

“The bigger surprise would have been if there had been an increase in support given the horrible month of December that we have just gone through,” said Bratt.

“While the second wave has hit Canada harder than the first wave, it has been most pronounced in the province of Alberta.”

Bratt thinks the most recent numbers are reason for concern for Kenney and the UCP.

“This is the type of issue that people aren’t going to forget in two years’ time,” Bratt said. “People are not going to forget that, you know, 1,200 people died in 2020.”

‘Elitism and entitlement is the kryptonite of the right’

Calgary-based pollster Janet Brown agreed with Bratt that the travel scandal would leave a lasting impression on voters. She said it’s orders of magnitude more serious than others in recent memory that have toppled governments in Alberta.

“Self-righteousness is the kryptonite of the left,” said Brown. “Elitism and entitlement is the kryptonite of the right.”

Ian Large, executive vice-president for Leger in Alberta, said the fallout over MLAs vacationing out of province was happening while the survey took place so he expects to see further drops in satisfaction levels.

“In two weeks when we do this again, I suspect there is going to be a big drop. That’s a tough one for a government to wear.” 

The latest online poll sampled 1,506 Canadians and was not assigned a margin of error, but for comparison purposes, a probability sample of this size of poll would have a margin of error plus or minus 3.09 per cent, 19 times out of 20. There may be higher margins of error in regional breakouts because of smaller sample sizes.

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