Health care tops the list of issues facing Alberta, according to a poll done for the CBC.
While health care remains the dominant issue among Albertans at 41 per cent, concerns about the economy at 31 per cent and the oil and gas sector at 27 per cent increased significantly compared to a similar survey done by Return on Insight (ROI) in January 2008.
"The fact that health care dominates isn't a change," says pollster Bruce Cameron. "It's still important ... but the interesting thing is how much concerns about oil and gas and the economy have come up. I guess it's a residual impact of the recession."
Alberta voters named the Progressive Conservatives as the best party to deal with most issues identified by CBC's poll.
Forty-three per cent of telephone respondents chose the Tories as the best party to manage the provincial economy.
Tories top economic, management issues
The Wildrose Party trails the PCs by almost 20 points, or more, on all economic and management issues identified by poll participants.
The Tories scored better than most other parties on health care and education, but not on the environment or social problems.
'I think health care is one of the issues that leaves the Wildrose [Party] flat footed because they don't have a simple, tangible solution to the problems.' — Mount Royal University's Lori Williams
The PCs are viewed as the best party to deal with education by one third, or 33 per cent, well ahead of the Wildrose Party.
Voters, in fact, rated the NDP higher on dealing with education at 19 per cent compared to the Wildrose Party's 13 per cent.
The NDP shows considerable strength in voters' minds in terms of being the best party to deal with issues such as environmental protection (tied with the PCs at 25 per cent) and addressing social issues — 27 per cent compared to 24 per cent for the governing PCs.
Health care a potential Tory strength
Mount Royal University policy studies professor Lori Williams says health care presents a potential strength for the Tories.
"There's a fight for how to solve health care on the left — and frankly, I think health care is one of the issues that leaves the Wildrose [Party] flat footed because they don't have a simple, tangible solution to the problems," Williams told CBC.
"They seem to be more associated with cutting the debt and the deficit."
Political scientist David Taras predicts the Tories are planning what he calls an "oxygen suppression campaign" in the coming spring election.
"What the Tories are going to try and do is cut off avenues of attack and prevent the Wildrose [Party] from having any oxygen at all," said Taras.
"The Tories know," he added, "that if they can play no errors baseball, they are likely to win a real hefty majority."
ROI's poll for CBC surveyed 803 Albertans from Jan. 25 to Jan. 31. The poll is considered accurate within +/- 3.5 percentage points 19 times out 20.