Braid: Alberta Tories losing trust as rivals smell blood

CALGARY — As the legislature opens today with the provincial budget ready for Thursday delivery, a new poll suggests the government has lost the trust of many Albertans.

Sensing weakness, political wolves from across the spectrum are starting to circle the PC campfire.

A big-sample survey from Marc Henry’s ThinkHQ Public Affairs says only 29 per cent of Albertans feel the government can be trusted.

It’s a dangerous number for Premier Alison Redford, whose personal approval rating has also dropped 25 points since last August, according to the survey of 1,214 Albertans.

Fifty-eight per cent of Albertans now disapprove of her performance, while only 33 per cent like it, says the poll conducted last month.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith gets 46 per cent approval, NDP Leader Brian Mason has 40 per cent, and Liberal Leader Raj Sherman scores 37 per cent.

Yes, the leaders of the two smaller opposition parties, with a total of nine seats in the legislature, both have higher popularity ratings than the premier.

If an election were held now, Wildrose would win 38 per cent of the decided popular vote, and the PCs only 26 per cent.

Most of those numbers have little meaning, of course; an election is three years away. Last April taught us all how polls can swing.

But the plunge in public trust is something different — and critical.

Once lost, trust is difficult to regain. A string of polls like this could feed into a serious challenge to Redford’s leadership at the party’s mandatory review in November.

Her sliding support is already lighting a fire under her former allies in the unions, who seem propelled by a fine rage at what they consider betrayal.

Nurses, teachers and other labour groups met in Edmonton on Monday to condemn the government’s “Klein-style cuts.” Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said the budget will be “Klein lite.”

He was talking about ex-premier Ralph Klein’s severe cost-cutting agenda that began in 1993.

At the same time, the right-wing Fraser Institute accuses the government of reckless spending and incompetent saving.

To all this the government responds in its usual fashion — by trying to say two things at once.

Finance Minister Doug Horner, at a party fundraising event last week, said “it’s important that government show you we can be lean and we can be mean in what we’re doing.

“So we’re going to head in that direction in a big way, probably bigger than what’s happened in the province in the past 20 to 25 years.”

He’s saying the budget will be tougher than any of Klein’s, right?

But no, the PCs won’t engage in Klein-style “hacks and slashes across the board.”

So it will be tough; except, don’t worry, it won’t be so tough.

This is how the government lost trust.

Many Albertans simply can’t decipher what they mean, or what they are.

The contrast with Klein is stark. In his worst moments, when he did the most difficult things, everybody knew exactly what he meant. Even his enemies trusted him to do what he said, even if they hated it.

These Redford PCs have lost the art. Now, mistrust leaves all their efforts open to attack.

One medical leader, Calgary’s Dr. Lloyd Maybaum, even accused the premier Monday of having a “revenge problem” that prompts her to get back at doctors for past criticism.

And so, the PCs are bleeding support to both the right and left, confining themselves to a shrinking centre where even their backers don’t know quite what to make of them.

All this is happening just as the budget is about to formally break many promises from the last election campaign. As Horner said, dating his vocabulary in a mid-Elvis fossil, it will be “hairy.”

Maybe he was talking about the wolves.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald.

The Calgary Herald, Tuesday, Mar. 05, 2013
Byline: Don Braid