Which premiers are secure and which ones are worried at premiers conference

As the premiers gather in Edmonton for the Council of the Federation this week, some of them have more political worries back home than others.

Electoral fortunes undoubtedly on the mind of more than few premiers at this week's Edmonton conference

Premiers Kathleen Wynne (left) and Rachel Notley (right) have the odds stacked against them when they next go to the polls, while John Horgan, B.C.'s premier-designate, has a narrow governing majority to maintain. (The Canadian Press)

As the premiers gather for the Council of the Federation this week, some of them have more political worries back home than others.

The meeting  in Edmonton will see provincial and territorial leaders tackle pressing national issues, including trade with the United States and the legalization of marijuana. But some premiers are facing serious political difficulties and may have to say goodbye to their colleagues around the premiers' table sooner rather than later.

Premier Brian Pallister of Manitoba doesn't need to face the electorate again until 2020. After ousting a 17-year NDP government in 2016, his Progressive Conservatives do not appear to be in any impending trouble. The party enjoyed a 12-point lead over the New Democrats in the latest Probe/Winnipeg Free Press poll.

Pallister has also averaged a net +6 rating (approval minus disapproval) in the most recent approval ratings surveys by the Angus Reid Institute (ARI) and Mainstreet Research.

There's no polling data available for the territorial leaders, who will also be at the meeting this week.

Maritime premiers breathe easy

The premier of Prince Edward Island, Wade MacLauchlan, is similarly secure. His Liberals have averaged an 11-point lead over the opposition PCs in the province, and Mainstreet pegged his net approval at +6.

Nova Scotia's Stephen McNeil just won re-election in May, the first premier to secure a second consecutive majority government in the province since 1988. Accordingly, he doesn't have to worry about re-election until at least 2021.

His neighbouring premier, however, will face voters much sooner. The next election in New Brunswick will be held in September 2018.

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant next faces the electorate in September 2018. (The Canadian Press / Andrew Vaughan)

Brian Gallant's polling numbers are mixed. His Liberals enjoy an average 14-point lead over the opposition Tories. A majority of respondents in the last Corporate Research Associates poll said they were satisfied with the government's performance.

But polling by the ARI and Mainstreet suggests his net approval rating is -25.5, putting him in the bottom half of the country's premiers ranking. The province's linguistic geography also makes Gallant's support very inefficient — polls suggest the Liberals dominate among New Brunswick's francophones, while leading the PCs by only a narrow margin among anglophones.

This could make Gallant's lead in the polls look wider than it actually is in terms of his party's ability to win seats.

Down but not out

Nevertheless, his re-election may be safer than that of Philippe Couillard's Liberals in Quebec. The next election in that province is scheduled for October 2018.

With the brief exception of a Parti Québécois interregnum in 2012-14, the Liberals have been in power in Quebec since 2003. The Liberals are still leading in the polls, but just barely. The party is averaging a 3.5-point lead over the Coalition Avenir Québec, a lead that is precarious considering the Liberals' traditional dominance among Quebec anglophones, who are concentrated in only a handful of seats.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard next goes to the polls in October 2018. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Couillard's own approval ratings are poor at a net -22, but he and his party could still benefit from an opposition divided between the nationalist CAQ, sovereigntist PQ and left-wing Quebec Solidaire.

But the pressure Couillard is feeling from the CAQ, which advocates more powers for the province within confederation, plays no small part in his proposal to reopen constitutional negotiations — a proposal likely to be largely ignored around the premier's table this week.

For the first time since 2007, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall's party has trailed the opposition NDP in the polls. (The Canadian Press / Liam Richards)

Saskatchewan's Brad Wall is also facing political pressure at home. While the province will not hold an election until 2020, Wall's Saskatchewan Party is experiencing something it hasn't since it first took office a decade ago: a close race with the opposition New Democrats.

The latest polls in the province average out to a one-point lead for the NDP, but surveys since an unpopular budget was presented earlier this year have ranged from a nine-point NDP advantage to a seven-point Saskatchewan Party edge. But that is a far cry from Wall's 32-point margin of victory in 2016.

Wall's approval rating has also fallen to a net -4.5. A year ago, it was +37.

Struggling for survival

A few premiers, however, would love to be in Wall's position.

After coming to power in a landslide victory in 2015, their handling of the financial situation in Newfoundland and Labrador has knocked Dwight Ball's Liberals back. The party trails the PCs by six points and Ball's own approval rating is a woeful -44.5 — raising questions about whether Ball will still be Liberal leader when the province goes back to the polls in 2019.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball has an average net approval rating of -44.5. (The Canadian Press / Andrew Vaughan)

The next premier scheduled to face voters is perhaps the one in the worst position. Ontario's next election is scheduled for June, and Liberal Kathleen Wynne is the least popular premier in the country. Her party trails Patrick Brown's PCs by an average of 9.5 points and her net approval rating is -55.

Also facing difficult re-election odds is the host of the premier's conference. Rachel Notley has an average net approval rating of -32 and has trailed in the polls since the end of 2015, just a few months after the NDP took office.

The New Democrats trailed the opposition Wildrose by 13 points in the last poll out of the province. But that margin could widen even further if Wildrose and the Progressive Conservatives merge to form a new party. Combined, the two parties were 42 points ahead of the NDP.

Even if every PC and Wildrose supporter does not back the proposed United Conservative Party, Notley will only see her chances of re-election get slimmer if the merger goes ahead. The two parties will hold a vote on the matter on Saturday.

The man who wasn't there

But the premier with perhaps the least job security in the country is the one premier who won't be present. British Columbia's John Horgan set his swearing-in date as the province's new premier for Tuesday.

The scheduling conflict means he will avoid (or at least delay) a potential separate conflict with Alberta's NDP premier over pipelines. That's a sensitive topic Horgan might be grateful to side-step. Heading up a government with a narrow one-seat majority propped up by three Green MLAs, B.C.'s incoming premier will be on the cusp of a new election campaign with every vote in the B.C. legislature.

In a snap election, the polls suggest that the NDP would find itself in the same position as it did on election night in May — a toss-up vote that might slightly favour the B.C. Liberals.

So for now, Horgan will be keeping his focus on the domestic scene. But he won't be the only premier preoccupied by goings-on at home.


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.


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