UCP threatened on 2 flanks as NDP leads and support surges for Wildrose Independence Party, poll suggests

A new poll suggests Alberta’s governing United Conservative Party is running 11 points behind the NDP while a new threat is emerging on the right as support for the Wildrose Independence Party surges to 20 per cent.

Kenney's 31% approval rating lowest among premiers, says Angus Reid Institute survey

An Angus Reid Institute poll released Wednesday suggests that Premier Jason Kenney's party has 30 per cent support, compared with 41 per cent for the NDP. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

A new poll suggests Alberta's governing United Conservative Party is running 11 points behind the NDP while a new threat is emerging on the right as support for the Wildrose Independence Party surges to 20 per cent.

The Angus Reid Institute's survey released on Wednesday also puts support for Premier Jason Kenney at just 31 per cent, the lowest approval rating of any provincial leader in Canada.

The institute says the percentage of voters who approve of Kenney's performance has slid 30 points, from a high of 61 per cent in June 2019.

The survey suggests that Kenney's United Conservative Party has the support of only 30 per cent of decided voters, trailing Rachel Notley's NDP by 11 points.

But Kenney also faces a growing challenge from the right, with 20 per cent of decided voters saying they support the Wildrose Independence Party (WIP).

The Wildrose Independence Party was formed in June 2020 when Wexit Alberta and the Freedom Conservative Party merged. Its interim leader is Paul Hinman.

The Alberta Party shows up in the survey at seven per cent and the Liberals are barely registering at one per cent. 

Jason Kenney's UCP is now running 11 points behind the NDP, a new poll by the Angus Reid Institute suggests. (Angus Reid Institute)

Lori Williams, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, says the poll is the first strong indication of where voters who are unhappy with the UCP but not inclined to support the NDP would park their votes.

"This poll suggests that the alternative is the Wildrose," she said. "And that's significant for two reasons: It shows that there is a split within the party that's now having an impact on voter intent, and it's now putting the NDP into the territory where they could win an election."

Williams said the support for the Wildrose Independence Party is not actually indicative of a surge in support for Alberta splitting from Canada. 

"It's a lack of support, or against, Jason Kenney, and even to some degree the NDP," she said. 

"Who knows whether this trend will persist, but this poll is saying that a significant number of those people have decided that the Wildrose Independence Party is a credible alternative — it's a good place to park their protest vote." 

The Angus Reid Institute says the erosion in support for the UCP is partly due to Alberta's relatively relaxed approach to COVID-19 restrictions, which contributed to the province developing the worst outbreak in North America last month.

"More recently, Kenney apologized for breaking his own government's COVID public health rules by having a dinner with members of his party without physically distancing," the institute said.

The apology followed a week of controversy after the photo of the gathering surfaced. The incident sparked public criticism from two cabinet ministers — Culture Minister Leela Aheer and Community and Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney — as well as other members of the UCP caucus.

Last month, 16 MLAs signed a letter criticizing the government's increased restrictions on businesses and other activities.

The Angus Reid Institute notes that with the next Alberta election not set to take place until spring 2023, the governing UCP has time to rebuild its support.

But Williams says it's difficult to see the path to that recovery since Kenney is now being attacked from all sides. 

"There are serious questions swirling around Jason Kenney's ability to lead. And that's a very difficult thing to win back," she said.

"I think it's a very difficult thing at this stage to be able to turn around the kind of disappointment, anger and distrust that has been generated." 

Low marks on issues 

The survey also found Kenney's government gets a poor appraisal from voters for its handling of several key policy areas.

On the issue of housing affordability, just 22 per cent said the UCP has done a good job. On poverty and homelessness, 23 per cent said they approved.

The UCP's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was rated as good by 33 per cent of respondents. 

Thirty eight per cent said the government's performance on the environment issue has been good — its highest score on issues management.

The Angus Reid Institute conducted the online survey from June 2 to 7 among a representative randomized sample of 4,948 Canadian adults who are members of Angus Reid Forum.

It's not possible to accurately calculate a margin of error for online surveys. For comparison purposes only, the institute says a probability sample of the same size would yield a margin of error of +/– 4 per cent.