Provincial cabinet ministers said Alberta had regained the upper hand, highlighting growth in employment rates and business investment in the province.
But while the United Conservative Party (UCP) government tries to draw attention to the economy – with Prime Minister Jason Kenney mentioning new projects or private sector investments at every opportunity – political scientists say much Albertans’ interest in provincial politics in 2022 will focus on leadership and management of health care.
“We are seeing some of the best economic news of my generation in this province,” Government House Leader Jason Nixon told reporters last month.
“And I firmly believe that this party will be judged in 2023 at the polls depending on what is happening with the economy and the management of fiscal affairs within this province.”
Not so fast, say political experts.
The issues they are monitoring in 2022 are the impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the often conflicting government responses. Alberta’s healthcare system is dilapidated, with high demand and exhausted workers resulting in intermittent closures of rural hospitals and delayed ambulances.
Political observers are also watching the ominous shadow of the elephant in the room – the challenges to Kenney’s leadership within his own party and the dismal numbers in the UCP’s public polls.
Last month, Nixon dismissed dissatisfaction with Kenney’s leadership as “primarily the focus of Twitter and those who talk in our world.”
Political scientists say Kenney and his entourage ignore it at their peril.
They say Kenney and his supporters must walk a tightrope in trying to win back disgruntled party members while positioning themselves as acceptable to voters in the next provincial election, slated for May 2023.
‘Between the devil and the deep sea’
“[Kenney is] between a rock and a hard place, ”said Brendan Boyd, professor of anthropology, economics and political science at MacEwan University in Edmonton.
“He must be able to keep his party united and win the leadership review, but also be able to pull through and win the general election.”
This leadership review is scheduled to take place in Red Deer on April 9 – a date later than what some in the party had advocated.
Lori Williams, associate professor of political studies at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said the government’s apparent abandonment of its “popular guarantee” to follow the political directions of party members – instead imposing top-down decisions – deprived many members of the right to vote.
Conflict over restrictions related to the pandemic
Supporters who value personal freedoms have also been enraged by public health restrictions to slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. Their beliefs run deep, Williams said, and it won’t be easy to win back their votes or their donations.
Another elephant in the room is the RCMP’s ongoing investigation into alleged electoral and financial irregularities during the UCP’s leadership race in 2017. Constituency associations who have recently been pushing for an early review of the UCP Kenney’s leadership wanted an independent auditor to oversee the process. The party refused.
A potential high-level leadership challenger also returned to the chat. Former Wildrose Party Leader Brian Jean, who lost the 2017 leadership challenge to Kenney, is back in politics. He won the UCP nomination contest in the riding of Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche, where a by-election is expected to be called by mid-February.
Jean has been blunt – he’s here to take Kenney’s job.
As Kenney lags behind Rachel Notley’s NDP in opinion polls and fundraising efforts, public policy professor Boyd has said there will be a “good competition” in a clash with John. Notley in 2023.
Both have strong governance and policy visions for the province, he said. “I would like these two visions to be offered and for Albertans to choose between them.
Kenney declined a request for a year-end interview with CBC News. He told Radio-Canada that he was convinced that any leadership review process would be flawless.
“I know some of the people who didn’t make it had sour grapes,” Kenney said of the 2017 UCP leadership contest. “But I won, I think, 35,000 votes straight from the members there.I won that term about two to one over the next competitor.
“There was no doubt about the strength of this democratic mandate.”
The court of public opinion
After peaking after the 2019 provincial election, polls suggest public support for Kenney and his party has gradually eroded. The decline has accelerated with public dissatisfaction with the way the government has handled the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Kenney’s sly political game positions him well to survive a leadership challenge, Williams said the government will need to pivot considerably to charm Alberta voters, “and I haven’t seen any evidence of that so far.” .
She said the tendency of politicians and party staff to insult and attack anyone who disagrees with them is off-putting to voters.
In particular, criticizing nurses, doctors, teachers and other public sector workers who put their safety on the front lines at risk during the pandemic is “muted” and out of step with public perception, a- she declared.
A lagging system
Opposition Leader Rachel Notley said she believes Alberta’s struggling healthcare system will dominate public discourse in 2022. She highlights issues such as ambulance response times and drug shortages. staff leading to periodic rural emergency room closures.
She said her campaign pitch to voters would start with a promise to listen to healthcare workers and strengthen the system.
His challenge for the coming year is to present the NDP’s competing vision to Albertans – one person says Notley balances economic growth with more aggressive economic diversification beyond oil and gas.
A future NPD government would, once again, revamp the new provisional school curriculum that has served as political football for the past five years. This would “work” to restore funding to post-secondary institutions whose public funding was cut by the UCP, Notley said.
“I think the most important part of our economic and social recovery is not what lies beneath the ground, it’s what works on it,” she said. “And it depends on our ability to continue our past of bringing people to this province.
“And right now, we are doing the exact opposite.”
Still to catch up in the economic recovery
The government’s post-secondary approach emphasizes expanding certified trades and transitioning schools to generate more of their own operating income.
Although the government brags about record-breaking economic growth forecasts for the coming year, economists say the province has huge ground to catch up in 2020. Albertans won’t see these rosy projections as believable unless they do. feel it in their own lives, Williams mentioned.
“I think this government has to be very careful before making any promises or predicting success prematurely,” Williams said.
What else to watch out for
As the government prepares to endorse and implement its platform promises in the last election, here are some other changes to watch for in 2022:
- A controversial new math, English, physical education and wellness curriculum will arrive in all Kindergarten to Grade 6 grades across the province in the fall.
- The government will present a provincial budget in February. Finance Minister Travis Toews has said he will present a new plan to balance the province’s books.
- A committee created to consult Albertans on a controversial measure to lift environmental protections preventing coal mining in the Rockies has submitted two reports to Energy Minister Sonya Savage. Savage will review the findings and recommendations before making them public.
- New labor laws that come into effect by August will force unions to seek permission from their members to spend their dues on political activities. Several labor groups have pledged to thwart or challenge the law.
- The government, which is committed to reducing the cost of public services, will continue negotiations with public sector workers, including teachers, nurses and doctors.
- The government could enact the revocation law passed by the legislature in 2021. This would allow voters to petition to remove MPs, city councilors and school trustees.
- The government has promised to consult with Albertans on whether to create a provincial police force.