'Kenney effect' hurt federal Conservatives on Alberta election night, experts say

Political scientists say the Tories’ commanding grip on Alberta was weakened on election night by Premier Jason Kenney’s controversial response to the devastating fourth wave of COVID-19. 

Conservative support fell by nearly 14 per cent in province

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced new public health measures last week — political scientists say that may have played a part in Monday's election results. (The Canadian Press)

Political scientists say the Tories' commanding grip on Alberta was weakened on election night by Premier Jason Kenney's controversial response to the devastating fourth wave of COVID-19. 

The "Kenney effect" was in full force at the polls, said Lisa Young, a political scientist with the University of Calgary.

Conservative support in Alberta fell by nearly 14 per cent in Monday's federal election, allowing the NDP and the Liberals to gain a foothold in some ridings. 

Many Albertans voted in protest against COVID-19 restrictions or a lack thereof, Young said Tuesday. 

"I think we saw a few things that sort of speak to the Kenney effect," she said.

"The fact that the Conservatives didn't do as well in terms of the popular vote as they have in the last couple of elections is probably a case of the traditional Conservative supporters not going up to vote, or voting for another party as a protest." 

As Canadians elected a Liberal minority government for the second time since 2019, Alberta remained a largely uninterrupted sea of blue. 

The Conservative Party of Canada dominated in Alberta, especially in rural ridings, but there were notable exceptions in ridings that instead went orange or red.

The NDP held on to Edmonton Strathcona, and by early Tuesday, NDP candidate Blake Desjarlais was declared the winner over Conservative incumbent Kerry Diotte in Edmonton Griesbach.

George Chahal won for the Liberals in Calgary Skyview. In Edmonton Centre as of Tuesday afternoon, Conservative incumbent James Cumming remained locked in a see-saw battle against Liberal Randy Boissonnault in a still undeclared race.

The Tories were left with 55.4 per cent of the vote in Alberta. In 2019, the party garnered 69 per cent.

Public health divide

Young said Kenney's divisive approach to the pandemic has Tory voters breaking off on both of the left and right side of the conservative camp.

Increasing support for the People's Party, particularly in Alberta's rural ridings, points to a splinter on the far right, one borne out of frustration and distrust over a recent COVID clampdown in Alberta.

"That speaks to a different kind of Kenney effect from people who object to what the provincial government is doing in terms of COVID," she said, adding it is a reminder that there are people disaffected with the Alberta political system.

Calgary pollster Janet Brown said Albertan unhappiness with Kenney's handling of the pandemic surged in the final weeks of the campaign.

Erin O’Toole's federal Conservative party lost support in Alberta in comparison to previous elections. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Many Tories will now blame the premier for Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole's losses on the Alberta campaign trail, she said. 

"When you look at the overall national popular support for the Conservatives, it's not far off the last election, but there's been this big drop in Alberta," Brown said. 

"O'Toole was able to make some good progress outside of Alberta but troubles in Alberta sort of undermined him.

"There's going to be a lot of conservatives who are angry about how the last week of the campaign played out. And we'll be looking for Jason Kenney's role in that."

Brown said Alberta remains a conservative heartland but the Kenney government's handling of the pandemic influenced perceptions of the federal Conservative party.

O'Toole had previously praised the Alberta government's pandemic response. But as election day approached, the province was in the grips of a surging fourth wave that threatened to push the health-care system to its breaking point. 

"The Conservatives got 14 per cent lower in this election than they did just two years ago ... That's a huge shift," Brown said. 

"There's no key beneficiary of that drop, which again, makes you wonder what was going on in the minds of voters."


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