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56% of Albertans don't want Jason Kenney as premier, poll suggests

More than half of Albertans say the province would be better off without Jason Kenney in charge, a disapproval rating far higher than the assessments of other premiers, according to a recent poll.

Research Co. poll of provinces finds disapproval rating far higher in Alberta

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney updates media on the province's response to COVID-19, in Edmonton on March 20. A recent poll shows more than half of Albertans would rather see the province under different leadership. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

More than half of Albertans say the province would be better off without Jason Kenney in charge, a disapproval rating far higher than the assessments of other premiers, according to a recent poll.

The poll by Research Co., which surveyed Canadians in late May, found 56 per cent of those canvassed agree with the statement "My province would be better off with a different premier in charge." 

It was the highest disapproval found amongst the regions polled, with both Saskatchewan and Manitoba tying for second at 43 per cent, Atlantic Canada at 40 per cent, Ontario at 38 per cent, B.C. at 36 per cent, and Quebec at 29 per cent.

Alberta was also an outlier in terms of how those perceptions have changed in the past six months.

I think there are certain differences in the way the whole COVID-19 pandemic has been handled in Alberta from the standpoint of the way in which you deal with the public. ​​​​​​- Mario Canseco, Research Co.

The same question was asked in December 2019. Since then, the percentage of people who disapprove of Kenney has dropped by just one point, while in other provinces, like Ontario, residents' approval of their premier jumped by as much as 22 points.

"It's definitely an anomaly when you look at other places," said Mario Canseco, president of Research Co. 

"I think there are certain differences in the way the whole COVID-19 pandemic has been handled in Alberta from the standpoint of the way in which you deal with the public.

"Jason Kenney has been very adamant about some of the comments that he's made relating to how Health Canada has handled this. The fact that he's trying to be the one who is steering the message consistently … hasn't really resulted in solidifying the base or getting more people who maybe didn't vote for him in the last election to look at him as somebody who has handled this in a very compelling way."

Canseco said Kenney is the only premier from Canada's four most populous provinces whose disapproval rating has remained relatively at the same level it was pre-pandemic.

Controversy over doctor pay

Duane Bratt, a political science professor at Mount Royal University, said it's important to put the poll numbers into the context of the Kenney government's clash with doctors over pay.

"Even though I think [Kenney] has handled COVID-19 well, just as well if not better than most premiers, it's striking that his approval is so much lower than Premier Legault or even Premier Ford, both of whom have a much nastier situation on their hands than in Alberta," Bratt said.

There have been 7,076 cases of COVID-19 in Alberta and 143 deaths; 344 cases were still active as of Wednesday.

In Quebec, 51,184 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and 4,794 have died, and in Ontario, 29,047 people have tested positive and 2,312 people have died. There are still thousands of active cases in those two provinces.

Bratt said Ontario Premier Doug Ford has managed to exceed low expectations and show empathy in response to the crisis, but the perception of Kenney's response wasn't the same. 

A number of doctors have criticized the province for changes to physician compensation that were rolled out during the pandemic, with multiple rural doctors across the province choosing to close their practices. 

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro used confidential information to contact protesting doctors, and was accused of berating a Calgary doctor outside his home in front of his wife and children after the doctor reposted a derogatory meme on Facebook.

The conflict led to some dissenters on social media coining the word "Shandemic" to describe the government's response.

Canseco said the poll also found a lower level of animosity toward the federal government in Alberta than before the pandemic.

Alberta's perceptions of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau improved by 11 points between December and May, with the recent poll showing 54 per cent of Albertans feel the country would be better off with a different federal leader, down from 65 per cent. 

"It's quite striking when you look at Justin Trudeau's [disapproval] numbers dropping 11 points and Jason Kenney remaining relatively stagnant," Canseco said. 

The poll's findings were consistent with a March poll from Angus Reid, which showed Kenney's approval rating drop from 54 per cent to 47 per cent since December.

Bratt said in times of crisis, citizens tend to support their governments, regardless of where they fit on the political spectrum.

"It tends to be rally around the flag. So then the question is, why did it not happen to Jason Kenney?" Bratt said.

The poll results were based on an online survey of 1,000 adults in Canada on May 26 and 27, and the data was statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures to account for age, gender and region. A comparable margin of error for a study with a probabilistic sample of this size would be plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, although it is higher for each province's regional breakdown since the number of respondents per province is accordingly smaller.

With files from Rick Donkers

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