Party time for United Conservatives: Economic issues lead UCP to long-expected Alberta victory

Party time for United Conservatives: Economic issues lead UCP to long-expected Alberta victory

It’s official. Tuesday night, Alberta voters chose to jettison Premier Rachel Notley and the NDP, opting overwhelmingly for Jason Kenney and the United Conservative Party. The New Democratic Party’s first mandate as Alberta’s government will – in the short term, at least – be its only one.

Unofficial results show the UCP won more than 60 seats, and more than 50 per cent of the popular vote, lending some credence to Premier-designate Kenney’s oft-asserted claim that Notley’s NDP was an “accidental government” born of divisions among right-leaning Albertans.

The New Democrats held their own in Edmonton, where they elected most of the more than 25 MLA’s that will form their team as the official opposition. Among those who could not bring themselves to vote for either major party, the Alberta Party was there to pick up about 10 per cent of the popular vote but failed to win a single seat in the legislature.

Related: Final Angus Reid Institute Alberta election poll shows significant lead for UCP

For Alberta voters, the election was driven almost entirely by economic concerns; specifically, the province’s deep-seated anxiety about its oil and gas industry and the inability to increase the amount of oil it can get to market. Alongside more general economic concerns, oil and gas topped Albertans’ list of the most important issues facing their province, and no other issue came close:

With the economy paramount in the minds of residents, the obvious question surrounding this election was who would be trusted most on key economic issues. In perhaps the best foreshadowing of what was to come on election day, Albertans told the Angus Reid Institute between April 5 – 8 that they trusted Jason Kenney on every economic issue they were asked about. Half of residents said he was the best choice to manage the oil and gas sector (53%), ensure more jobs (51%) and provide the best overall management of the province’s economy (51%).

Some observers, including former federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair, had suggested that the UCP running a campaign against not only Rachel Notley, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, would be a winning strategy. The UCP obliged, tapping into a feeling among Albertans felt that Kenney would be a better representative for their province when dealing with the federal government:

Ultimately however, what sunk the NDP’s hopes of retaining power had little to do with the view of its leader. While Notley’s image suffered with respect to economic issues, she maintained a favourability rating nearly identical to Jason Kenney. Both fell just shy of majority favourability:

Nonetheless, the perception that Notley did not do enough on the oil and gas file dogged her throughout the campaign. How much of that blame can reasonably be placed on Notley is open to debate, but in this case, perception translated into a new political reality. Six-in-ten Alberta residents said that the outgoing premier did not do enough to stand up for Alberta’s oil and gas industry. Nearly half of residents strongly agreed with this sentiment, including more than half of those over the age of 35:

Now the task of rebuilding the economic fortunes of Albertans falls to Jason Kenney. How long his political honeymoon lasts remains to be seen. After decades of dutifully returning incumbents to power, Albertans are showing – two elections in a row – they have little problem changing horses that don’t take them where they want to go.


Image Credit – Jason Franson/CP

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