Election focus group 'disappointed' following latest UCP leadership campaign revelations

A mess. Really bad. Looks like dirty politics. That's how some members of CBC's new election focus group describe the fallout from the latest allegations about the UCP leadership campaign. The focus group has been assembled to watch all of the twists, turns and missteps during the spring election.

Campaign watchers say UCP leadership allegations look bad and ask for accountability, honesty

Members of the CBC Calgary focus group assembled to watch, comment and analyze the upcoming spring election in Alberta. Top row, from left to right: Vincent Domazet, Tamara Keller, Stephen Carlton. Middle row: Kalpana Mistry, James Vy, Carla Paradis, Jennifer Clark. Bottom row: Don Rausch, Kathleen Cox, Dominic Dayan. (John Santos)

Editor's Note: Throughout the upcoming election cycle, we will be exploring the issues and concerns that matter to Albertans through a number of focus groups conducted together with Janet Brown Opinion Research. A couple dozen Albertans, from across the political spectrum and around the province, are participating

A mess. Really bad. Looks like dirty politics. 

That's how some members of the CBC's new election focus group describe the latest allegations involving Jason Kenney and Jeff Callaway's UCP leadership campaigns.

The focus group has been assembled to watch all of the twists, turns and missteps during the spring election.

The first sessions were held last week, before the allegations were made public. We reached out to some of them to find out what they think about how the campaigns worked together to undermine fellow candidate Brian Jean.

"Really disappointed," said Stephen Carlton, a member of the Calgary group. Carlton typically leans to the right of the political spectrum, but he is not a UCP member.

"If all this bears out, there appears to be some pretty dirty politics that's happening," he said.

Jennifer Clark, 44, is a life-long conservative supporter. She says the allegations have created "a mess" for the conservative campaign.

"We were really hoping that this could be a clean election. We do vote conservative, we believe in their policies," she said.

"There needs to be accountability and transparency to us. And I'm so disappointed right now."

Tamara Keller, who pegs herself slightly left of centre, says Kenney's leadership is now a legitimate question.

"He's got some big decisions to make. And it will be interesting if he puts party over person or if he stays," said the 44-year-old mother. 

Campaign watchers

If Ralph Klein was still alive, he'd likely call them the focus group of  "severely normal Albertans," or a collection of "Marthas and Henrys."

They were terms of endearment the former premier used to describe everyday, hardworking, lunch-box toting Albertans.

The Calgary group — not all of them carrying lunch boxes — is comprised of 10 people. Some are retired from the oilpatch or recovering oil and gas workers looking for new careers. There's a stay-at-home mom, a tutor, a student, an event manager, a legal assistant, an office manager and a road construction worker.

There are five men and five women, ranging in age from 24 to 67. Some are single, in common-law relationships or married. There's at least one grandparent and a new parent. 

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A common theme that quickly emerged during the individual introductions is just how many in the group have been affected by the prolonged slump in the oil and gas sector. 

"This downturn in the industry, it hurts a lot of people," said Don Rausch, 67.

Rausch spent 35 years in oil and gas before retiring eight years ago — his three kids also pursued careers in the same industry, two of the three were laid off, one of them has since been rehired.

Kathleen Cox, 28, an office manager, said her husband was laid off from the oilpatch and is now studying computer science at the University of Calgary.

Vincent Domazet spent about 10 years in oil and gas before he was let go a few years ago.

"It pushed me out," he said.

The 43-year-old is back at school studying software development at SAIT.

"I'm being coached by a couple companies already, so it's promising," he told the group. 

It's the economy and....

Given how the group has been affected by the downturn, it wasn't surprising to hear the main issue is the economy and job creation. Others mentioned they want to see support for small businesses and a plan to tackle the province's growing debt and deficits.

There was also talk about spending on education, health care, infrastructure and daycare. Some in the group said more needs to be done for Indigenous people, gender equality and LGBTQ rights. 

What was perhaps unexpected is what the group didn't say when asked what they'd like to see as the first order of business for the new government.

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No one mentioned the province's two-year-old carbon tax, which Jason Kenney has promised to scrap if his party forms government. 

A few people did say they'd be OK with a provincial sales tax — or even higher taxes to avoid program cuts.

"I'm actually prepared to take it off carbon and have it as a sales tax," said Carlton, who is now consulting for the oil and gas industry. 

"Unpopular opinion, probably, I'd be OK with paying more tax if it meant less service cuts," added James Vy, a 27-year-old who works in the oilpatch helping with reclaimed or abandoned facilities. 

Keep it clean, please

While the NDP machine ramps up its attacks on Kenney, the group was pretty much unanimous that they don't want to see a negative-style campaign, the name-calling and mudslinging.

"I find that a lot of the parties start to attack each other and focus more on that than the actual issues," said Kathleen Cox. 

"All I've seen so far is one saying 'this one's bad,' and the other one is saying that this one does that and our money is going towards a slanderous mess," said Clark, a legal assistant.

"These are our politicians. Do they not have anything better to do?" she asked.

Oh, I don't know how I feel about this yet, let me go look at a couple polls and I'll tell you.- James Vy

James Vy wonders why the parties haven't been upfront about releasing their platforms.

"Where's their platforms? Everyone is holding their cards so close to their chest," he said.

"Where's the leadership? What does the UCP stand for? No one knows," Vy said.

Channeling his inner politician, he said: "Oh, I don't know how I feel about this yet, let me go look at a couple polls and I'll tell you."

"It's like a hidden agenda," added Clark. "They won't tell you until the end what the plan is."

"What I'd like to see is that all of the parties out there give us something to vote for instead of something to vote against," said Tamara Keller.

The group also revealed that most of them haven't yet made up their minds — that they usually keep an open mind heading into an election and that their votes are still up for grabs.

But with all of the news swirling around the so-called "kamikaze" campaign, some in the group are raising questions about Kenney's leadership.

"If this is how he does his politics, no, I don't think he's fit to be premier with this kind of scheme, this kind of background," said Carlton.

Clark added: "I've got to figure out how he can go forward. Like how can we vote and go forward for a party where the leader has been involved in something like this?"

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Bryan Labby

Enterprise reporter

Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.