With at least one poll showing the Progressive Conservatives under Alberta Premier Alison Redford and the Wildrose Party under Danielle Smith in a dead heat for support among decided voters, one has to ask where Ed Stelmach is now that the Tories really need him.
I mean, really, could it be any worse for the Alberta Tories with the hapless former premier at the helm? Very unlikely. Indeed, it sounds as if Mr. Stelmach gave up far too easily.
Another question the shambling Tories must suddenly be asking themselves is if they would have been better off if they’d chosen Gary Mar, the smooth old political operator they sidelined at the final moment in last fall’s leadership race in favour of Ms. Redford’s flavour-of-the-moment candidacy.
The answer to the question about Mr. Mar is probably unknowable, based as it is on hypothetical assumptions and speculative fantasy. Not so speculation about Mr. Stelmach, however. We know that for all his seeming uncertainty, and his frequent fumbles, he enjoyed strong support among some sectors of Alberta’s population. Many non-Conservative Albertans saw him as an honourable if plodding man who operated from the best of intentions, and therefore extended to him a cautious level of goodwill.
This can’t be proved, of course, but it’s said here that Mr. Stelmach probably could have handily won another majority term in office, even if the size of the opposition grew a little.
Moreover, notwithstanding his difficulties with MLAs like the self-serving and ambitious neo-Con Ted Morton – the worst premier Alberta never had, and thank goodness for that – Mr. Stelmach enjoyed more support within his own caucus than does Premier Redford, who only had the support of one MLA in the leadership race and who couldn’t even get her own way on fixed election dates or the form a health inquiry ought to take.
But if the Ipsos poll released late Monday by Global TV is any guide, the suddenly fragile looking Tories under Ms. Redford could be in bigger trouble than even their most optimistic enemies had thought.
The poll, conducted between March 20 and 25 with the obvious plan it could be used as a news hit by Global to kick off its coverage of the campaign, surveyed 890 Albertans using a self-selecting on-line panel. It estimated support for both right-wing parties at 38 per cent each.
The Ipsos survey put the other parties much farther back, with committed support at 12 per cent for the NDP, 11 per cent for the Alberta Liberals and 2 per cent for all other parties.
Another poll released Monday for another broadcaster, this one done by ThinkHQ Public Affairs Inc. for CTV, also contains bad news for Ms. Redford’s Conservatives – although it is closer what might be called “the new normal” for recent Alberta polls of voter intentions.
The ThinkHQ poll of 1,320 respondents some time in March indicated Ms. Redford’s PCs are still in the lead with 36 per cent of committed voters, but barely, only a shade more than the survey’s margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 per cent. In other words, it too shows results perilously close to a statistical tie between the Tories and the Wildrose Party, which the survey said had 33 per cent support.
The other parties trailed the pack in this poll with levels of support similar to those recorded by Ipsos: NDP, 13 per cent support; Alberta Liberals, also 13 per cent; Alberta Party, 2 per cent; other parties, 3 per cent.
CTV’s reporting of this poll was truly pathetic, with no data at all on the methodology – which, based on ThinkHQ’s past efforts, was most likely also a self-selecting online panel – and little information on the dates when the pollster was in the field.
So neither of these polls appears to use the best available methodology. However, in combination with other polling done in the past few weeks they are highly suggestive that some kind of Wildrose breakout is in reality under way.
And don’t forget that yet another poll from a major pollster showing similar dead-heat results is rumoured to be ready for publication later this week.
There was some faint reassurance for the PCs in the ThinkHQ effort, which found Ms. Redford to be personally more popular with voters than the other leaders, including Ms. Smith. The results show her personally running well ahead of her party in support. Perhaps there is something there for her strategic brain trust to work with.
Premier Redford’s campaign will also certainly be going after worried Liberal voters in the Edmonton region who may be persuaded to vote PC in hopes of blocking the frightening prospect of a market-fundamentalist Wildrose government.
Unfortunately, however, for pretty obvious reasons no pollster is asking Alberta voters what they now think of Mr. Mar … or of Mr. Stelmach.
Nevertheless, at this juncture, that would be a very interesting thing to know.
Wouldn’t it be deliciously ironic if the person brought in to save the party from Ed Stelmach’s fumbling leadership ended up producing a worse result than Mr. Stelmach would have on his own!
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.