Wexit support wanes among Albertans, new research suggests

·4 min read

Albertans' willingness to work on the province's relationship with the rest of Canada is improving, even though they see tough times ahead, new research suggests.

Three research briefs from Common Ground, a research initiative at the University of Alberta, were released Tuesday. They cover pandemic politics, western alienation and 'fair deal' panel considerations.

The surveys involved 825 online respondents and did not include a margin of error.

"While western alienation remains high, Albertans are reluctant to abandon national institutions," the organization said.

"While the intensity of Albertans' discontent with the rest of Canada has declined, significant disaffection remains."

The research found that a majority of Albertans oppose replacing the RCMP with a provincial police force, exiting the Canadian Pension Plan and replacing the Canada Revenue Agency.

However, respondents were also in favour of taking an offensive stance with Ottawa, including challenging federal legislation and removing equalization from the constitution. They also wanted to see Alberta gain more autonomy from Ottawa.

Overall, the research found Albertans want to build bridges in the federation by reducing internal trade barriers, getting access to tidewater and changing fiscal transfer programs. Respondents were more skeptical of measures that would sever ties with federal institutions.

Wexit

Ben Shannon/CBC
Ben Shannon/CBC

One briefing focused on alienation found Albertans are still feeling "jilted" but are not as angry as they were immediately after the 2019 federal election. Support for the Wexit movement has dropped 11 points since that vote, from 29 per cent down to 18.

Two in three Albertans surveyed said they feel like Ottawa treats this province worse than others. Many also say Alberta deserves more respect and more money from the federal government. Many weren't optimistic about the province's future.

"The most surprising and most disconcerting finding from our research is that over half of Albertans feel like the province's best days are behind it," said Jared Wesley, an author of the report and a political scientist at the University of Alberta.

"That's something we haven't seen in surveys before. And it signals that this new round of western alienation is different than it has been in the past."

On top of longer standing concerns, the survey also asked for opinions on how the COVID-19 pandemic has been mitigated so far.

Albertans have low levels of trust that elected officials are handling the pandemic well. They are especially skeptical of the prime minister and premier, while local mayors enjoy more support.

Of those surveyed, 31 per cent said they have no trust in Justin Trudeau to handle COVID-19, while 30 per cent said the same of Jason Kenney. Only 17 per cent said they didn't trust their mayor or reeve.

"When it comes to handling the pandemic, Albertans tend to lack trust in their elected officials. This said, they have more trust in local officials compared to those in provincial and federal offices," the report says.

COVID-19 response

Albertans have higher levels of trust in non-elected officials, like the chief medical officer of health.

Two in three said they have trust in Dr. Deena Hinshaw to handle the pandemic. Alberta's top doctor also has higher support than Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam. Support for Hinshaw also varied widely between rural and urban Albertans.

"Given the effect of partisanship on many other areas of public opinion related to the pandemic in Alberta, views of Dr. Hinshaw remain among the least polarized," it says.

Respondents also said they thought NDP Leader Rachel Notley would do a better job handling COVID-19 than Jason Kenney would. They also would prefer if Stephen Harper was in charge federally.

Albertans also felt Canada was doing much better in combating the virus than other countries like the United States.

They also support current health restrictions, with 55 per cent saying they felt the reopening plan was proceeding at the right pace.

When it comes to lifting more restrictions, most respondents were risk-averse. The vast majority said they wanted restrictions to remain in place until no new cases are being confirmed or until there is a vaccine. However, the report also noted a partisan difference when it comes to people's opinions about restrictions.

That partisanship stuck out to Wesley.

"There is a theme. I think it's the persistence of polarization in a couple of different senses. First of all, the most important predictor of political attitudes in Alberta continues to be partisanship. There's a clear divide between the Democrats on the left and UCP supporters on the right," he said.

"There's a sense of animosity that still is there when it comes to Ottawa's treatment of the province. And so western alienation and partisanship are colouring Albertans attitudes towards everything from economic recovery to the pandemic to all sorts of other issues."

The research group will release more reports in the near future on similar topics.