Albertans least likely to support COVID-19 protocols, new survey suggests

Two years into the COVID-19, a new survey of Canadians suggests Albertans are the least likely to support continuing with measures such as indoor masking, mandatory vaccinations and testing.

Province has lowest ratio of people saying they’ll keep up with public health measures on their own

A discarded mask in early February 2022. (CBC/Radio-Canada)

Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, a new survey of Canadians suggests that Albertans are the least likely to support precautionary measures such as indoor masking, mandatory vaccinations and testing.

Less than half of Albertans surveyed support continued health measures such as the use of vaccine passports or mandatory COVID-19 testing for international travel, according to the Angus Reid Institute (ARI) survey of 2,550 Canadians, 256 of whom were from Alberta. 

Comparatively, nearly two-thirds of the national population and more than 70 per cent of those surveyed from Atlantic Canada support the same measures. 

When asked about whether they were likely to continue certain COVID-19 preventative measures even without public health orders, Albertans were less likely to say they would in most categories.

The poll was conducted from March 1 to 4 with a representative randomized sample of 2,550 (256 Albertans) adults who are members of the Angus Reid Forum. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding.

Shachi Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute, said though the number of Albertans in support of public health measures is lower than other provinces, there remains a strong urban component who are very on board with a cautious approach to the pandemic, which has raised the temperature of the conflict over restrictions.

"It's just been hotter," she said. "People have been more riled up relative to any other place in the country. And we see that in terms of the intensity of the 'yes' and the 'no' around maintaining restrictions, around lifting restrictions, and even around what people plan to do once restrictions are lifted."

The number of those who approve of the speed at which restrictions are lifted is relatively high in Alberta, but so is the number of those who say the province has moved too quickly.

The numbers also show that Albertans have had a higher number of awkward moments or arguments associated with following COVID-19 measures than those in other provinces, signs of a "lack of consensus" within the province.

These kinds of discrepancies have led to a political tightrope walk for Alberta's leaders, reflected in poor performance ratings for Premier Jason Kenney. The premier has a lower Alberta pandemic approval rating than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

It shows a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" problem for Kenney, said Kurl. Constituents with strong opinions on either end of the spectrum have made Kenney unpopular with those on both sides, he added.

Kenney also failed to see the "pandemic glow" that benefitted other provincial leaders, which Kurl said stems from his relative unpopularity at the start of lockdowns in 2020.

Even non-political figures such as Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, and Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, have low approval ratings of 42 and 41 per cent, respectively.

Meanwhile, Hinshaw's disapproval rating was 53 per cent amongst Albertans polled, while 51 per cent of respondents disapproved of Tam's performance.

Every provincial chief public health officer started the pandemic with very high approval ratings, ranging from 78 per cent in Ontario to 91 per cent in the Atlantic provinces. Alberta was in the middle of the pack at that point with 86 per cent.

Every province's top doctor has since seen at least some drop in approval. However, Alberta's approval was the lowest as of the most recent data point in the survey, at 41 per cent.

Only Ontario has seen equally low numbers, which have since rebounded to nearly 60 per cent.

One public health professor sees the root of the province's polarization as decision-making based on political motivations rather than science-based evidence, putting public health officials in a tough spot. 

"There should be one way to do it that's based on evidence, and everyone follows that," said the University of Alberta's Louis Francescutti.

"But unfortunately this is new terrain for a lot of people, and especially our political leaders who have to look after their political fortunes."

Francescutti said it is only a matter of time before we see restrictions return, whether it's because of a new COVID-19 variant or a different public health emergency.

He said that most of the patients he sees in Edmonton understand there is a pandemic and that precautions need to be taken. 

It's politics that is ultimately what's preventing Alberta from improving its approach to public health, said Francescutti.

"Unfortunately, we still have this mess because nobody's advocating for what's in the best interest of your typical Albertans."


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