Canada election 2015: Do premiers help or hinder their federal partners?

Provincial premiers, whether they like it or not, are becoming involved in the federal election campaign. Which ones can boost their federal counterparts, and which ones can be a drag on their fortunes?

The involvement of provincial premiers in a federal campaign can come with rewards - and risks

Kathleen Wynne is trying to help Justin Trudeau win the federal election. But Trudeau may have more to lose than to gain from her involvement. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Provincial premiers have gotten involved in the ongoing federal election campaign, whether they wanted to or not. But does the involvement of these premiers help or hurt their federal counterparts?

Kathleen Wynne has inserted herself into the campaign with advertisements promoting herself and her "Liberal Ontario" government running on television. Stephen Harper has attempted to drag Alberta Premier Rachel Notley into the fray as well, telling Quebecers this week, in French only, that her NDP government has been a "disaster."

The strategies behind these developments are puzzling, at least from a numbers perspective. According to recent polls, Wynne is less popular in Ontario than federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, while Notley is more popular in Alberta than the federal New Democrats. And the NDP's recent surge in Quebec coincided with Notley's victory in May, suggesting Quebecers may not be very receptive to Harper's message.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, right, met with federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair shortly after her surprise victory in Alberta this spring. She remains more popular in her province than her federal counterpart. (CBC )

The latest surveys in Ontario, conducted between the end of May and early July, pegged Wynne's approval rating to be only 29 to 31 per cent, with her disapproval rating as high as 59 to 61 per cent. By comparison, Trudeau boasts an approval rating of 37 per cent in the most recent Forum Research poll in the province. The federal Liberals are currently averaging 29 per cent support in Ontario, suggesting Wynne has little potential to improve that score.

It is an entirely different situation in Alberta, however. Though Harper's message was aimed at Quebecers, who are currently supporting the NDP in large numbers, Rachel Notley is far from an unpopular premier.

Two recent polls conducted at the end of June pegged her approval rating at 50 to 59 per cent, roughly double the federal NDP's support in Alberta and quite a bit higher than leader Tom Mulcair's own standing in the province. It does Mulcair no harm whatsoever to have her name on Stephen Harper's lips.

Another Western premier, however, can only help the Conservative leader. Brad Wall's title as the most popular premier in the country has gone unchallenged for some time, and the latest poll put his approval rating at 61 per cent. In polls conducted by EKOS Research since June, on the other hand, the Conservatives have averaged just 38 per cent in Saskatchewan.

With new riding boundaries benefiting the New Democrats in Saskatoon and Regina, the Conservatives could use a little bit more of Wall's magic touch.

One of Stephen Harper's last official acts before calling the election was to visit Premier Brad Wall, right, in Saskatchewan. (Mark Taylor/Canadian Press )

Don't stand so close to me

The New Democrats like to talk about the party's history in government at the provincial level, but Mulcair can be expected to avoid Manitoba NDP Premier Greg Selinger.

After narrowly surviving a cabinet revolt, Selinger's approval rating stood at just 23 per cent in an Angus Reid poll conducted at the end of May and beginning of June. Though that is not dissimilar from the federal NDP's polling numbers in the province, Mulcair would likely want to stay away from Selinger's 67 per cent disapproval rating.

In New Brunswick, Liberal Premier Brian Gallant has already pledged not to get involved in the campaign in order to avoid hurting his federal colleague. And with good reason: the latest survey by Angus Reid put his approval rating at just 27 per cent, with 57 per cent of respondents disapproving of his performance. By comparison, the federal Liberals in New Brunswick were last pegged at 40 per cent in a Corporate Research Associates poll two months ago.

But as with Stephen Harper's name-dropping of the Alberta NDP leader, premiers do not always get to decide whether they will become part of the campaign or not.

And in the case of both Rachel Notley and Kathleen Wynne, that decision may not always appear to make a lot of sense.

CBC's Poll Tracker aggregates all publicly released polls, weighing them by sample size, date and the polling firm's accuracy record. Upper and lower ranges are based on how polls have performed in other recent elections. The seat projection model makes individual projections for all ridings in the country, based on regional shifts in support since the 2011 election and taking into account other factors such as incumbency. The projections are subject to the margins of error of the opinion polls included in the model, as well as the unpredictable nature of politics at the riding level. The polls included in the model vary in size, date and method, and have not been individually verified by the CBC. You can read the full methodology here.

The poll by Mainstreet Research was conducted on June 30, interviewing 3,007 Albertans via interactive voice response. The margin of error associated with the survey is +/- 1.8 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

The poll by ThinkHQ was conducted at the end of June, interviewing 1,442 Albertans via the internet. As the poll was conducted online, a margin of error does not apply.

The poll by Angus Reid was conducted between May 26 and June 7, interviewing 6,291 Canadians via the internet. As the poll was conducted online, a margin of error does not apply.

The Ontario poll by Forum Research was conducted between June 26 and July 7, interviewing 678 Ontarians via interactive voice response. The margin of error associated with the survey is +/- 3.8 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

The federal poll by Forum Research was conducted in Ontario on August 2, interviewing 489 Ontarians via interactive voice response. The margin of error associated with the regional sample is +/- 4.4 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

The poll by Corporate Research Associates was conducted between May 11 and June, interviewing 1,502 Atlantic Canadians via the telephone. The margin of error associated with the survey is +/- 2.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.


Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.