Albertans are more politically progressive than assumed, according to findings collected by Ottawa’s Abacus Data and published in a recent report titled “The Quiet Majority.”
Commissioned by Progress Alberta — a brand new left-leaning, non-partisan organization based in Edmonton — the poll discovered that 59 per cent of Albertans self-describe as “progressive” and tend to vastly overestimate the percentage of other Albertans who self-describe as conservatives.
“We had a hunch that Albertans were a little more progressive than the perception out there, but the results were pretty incredible, to be frank,” says Duncan Kinney, founder of Progress Alberta. “Really, what surprised me the most was just how much Albertans overestimate how conservative other Albertans are.”
To be fair, the definition of “progressive” seems fairly nebulous: some 72 per cent of people who voted for the Alberta NDP in May harnessed the label to describe their political affiliations, but 47 per cent of those who backed the far-right Wildrose Party also used it.
In addition, while a combined 57 per cent of people polled had a “positive” or “neutral” impression of Premier Rachel Notley, some 38 per cent of people had a “negative” impression of her, making her by far the most negatively perceived politician in Alberta (the second-most disliked politician was moustached leader of the Progressive Conservatives, Ric McIver, who attracted “negative” impressions 19 per cent of the time).
The polling data, collected from 1,000 Albertans in an online survey between December 2 and 7, featured a margin of error of +/- 3.1 per cent at 19 times out of 20.
Policies introduced by Notley’s NDP win favour
One area where public opinion appears more uniform concerns how Albertans view NDP policies introduced since May.
By far the most popular bill seems to be the very first introduced by the NDP, which banned corporate and union donations to political parties —although it still allows such entities to guarantee loans and pay employees to work campaigns. Seventy-two per cent of Albertans surveyed stated they “support” or “strongly support” this legislation.
Another bill — Bill 2, an Act to Restore Fairness to Public Revenue — which introduced five new tax brackets for Alberta’s wealthiest and abolished the province’s ‘flat tax’ also received strong approval from survey respondents.
Perhaps most surprising is the support for the province’s new climate change plan exhibited by Albertan who were polled, particularly given that a Mainstreet Research survey conducted on December 3 (which featured a margin of error of +/- 1.8 per cent at 19 times out of 20) concluded that 68 per cent of Albertans oppose the plan.
In Abacus’ recent poll, it was found that 48 per cent of Albertans support the phase-out of coal-powered electricity by 2030 (with 36 per cent opposing), 47 per cent support a carbon tax (with 41 per cent in opposition) and 47 per cent for the cap on oilsands emissions (with 37 per cent against it).
Such data could serve as a strong counter to arguments by conservatives like the University of Calgary’s Barry Cooper, who argued in a rambling column for the Calgary Herald that Alberta’s carbon tax “was unmentioned in the NDP election platform and is opposed by two out of three Albertans.”
Notably absent from the survey, however, was a question about Bill 6, the very contentious legislation that mandates OHS and WCB coverage for farm workers.
Kinney suggests such findings relate to the demographic changes that Alberta has undergone in recent years: “We are younger, we are more urban, we are more educated,” he said.
“Those are all traits that correlate with identifying as progressive, according to our poll.”
Kinney added that these progressive trends are also identifiable on the federal political landscape in Alberta.
“We went from one non-Conservative MP in this province to five,” he said. “When you look at ridings in Alberta that had a majority of non-Conservative voters, we went from three in the last election to 12 in this election.”
Carrying the progressive momentum forward
Some ostensibly conservative elephants in the room weren’t addressed in the poll.
Alberta is the only province in Canada without a sales tax, making the public purse much more vulnerable to volatility associated with global commodity prices.
David Stewart, political science professor at the University of Calgary, has previously estimated that a provincial sales tax (PST) that matches the “level of the next lowest province” — Saskatchewan, featuring a five per cent tax — would draw in $11.6 billion in revenue.
That amount has the potential to erase the debt and allow for investments in sectors like clean energy, affordable housing and public transit.
The NDP has announced it will not introduce a PST. In addition, the party has said it doesn’t intend to bring in rent control, which would prevent landlords from gouging tenants. Alberta is the sole province in Canada without such a policy.
But Kinney emphasizes that political change takes time, noting the progressive takeover of the legislature in May represented the apex of a decade’s worth of momentum.
As people acclimatize to the NDP and Alberta’s right-wing continues to implode, it seems reasonable to assume that momentum could continue: “It’s important to create the space for people to talk about it,” Kinney said.
“This type of report really shows that your neighbours aren’t as conservative as you think, your coworkers aren’t as conservative as you think, your relatives aren’t as conservative as you think.”
“If this helps an awkward dinner conversation with some relatives, then all the better.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Progress Alberta is affiliated with the Broadbent Institute.
Image: Dan Voaklander