Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party entered the final weekend before Alberta’s provincial election with a comfortable eight-point lead over Rachel Notley’s New Democrats, according to a new poll conducted for The Globe and Mail, near the end of a divisive campaign that has largely focused on the province’s persistent economic problems.
If Mr. Kenney turns that lead into an election victory on Tuesday, Alberta would find itself almost immediately in conflict with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government and the provinces of British Columbia and Quebec over an array of issues including pipelines, carbon taxes, climate policy and equalization. Mr. Kenney has promised a combative posture with lawsuits and threats to cut off oil shipments to B.C.
Mr. Kenney and Ms. Notley spent the weekend campaigning in areas each party has identified as potential battlegrounds, with Mr. Kenney in Edmonton and Ms. Notley in Calgary, as strong turnout at advance polls shattered records. Mr. Kenney’s party was also forced to respond to revelations that the RCMP executed a search warrant at a UCP candidate’s business.
The poll, conducted between Wednesday and Saturday by Nanos Research, found 44 per cent of decided or leaning respondents identified the United Conservative Party as their top choice, while 36 per cent said they would vote for the incumbent New Democrats; 16 per cent said they were undecided. The Alberta Party, which is seeking a breakthrough under the leadership of Stephen Mandel, a former Edmonton mayor, had the support of 12 per cent of respondents.
Pollster Nik Nanos said the poll results put Mr. Kenney on the path for victory, especially because the riding boundaries in Alberta tend to favour conservatives. He cautioned, however, that the poll numbers don’t translate to the number of seats each party could win.
“I would call it a comfortable lead,” said Mr. Nanos. “The current trajectory suggests a win [for Mr. Kenney].”
Mr. Nanos said the results show a generational and gender divide, with voters under 35 supporting the NDP and every other age group behind the UCP. While the UCP had a significant lead among men, women were about evenly split between the two parties.
On the question of who would make the best premier, Mr. Kenney and Ms. Notley were effectively tied given the poll’s margin of error, with 37-per-cent and 35-per-cent support, respectively.
“Even though the United Conservatives enjoy a lead on the ballot, Notley and Kenney are actually quite competitive with each other,” said Mr. Nanos.
“[Ms. Notley] is the draw for the New Democrats. She’s more likely to resonate with younger voters, women voters and urban voters.”
The results suggest the economy and pipelines remain by far the most important issues for voters. Respondents also identified Mr. Kenney as the candidate best equipped to break an impasse over new pipelines, with 45-per-cent support on that question compared with 29 per cent for Ms. Notley. Mr. Nanos said social issues that have come up in the campaign, such as protections for gay-straight alliances in schools, do not appear to be driving votes.
Elections Alberta said almost 700,000 people cast ballots in advance polls, which closed on Saturday after five days of early voting. That figure is roughly triple the previous record, set during the last election in 2015, and was helped by new rules that allow Albertans to vote anywhere in the province during advance polls.
Mr. Nanos said the strong turnout is likely a reflection of a polarizing campaign in which voters on both sides are motivated not only by a desire to elect their party but also to block their main opponent. He said it’s impossible to predict whether the advance polls benefit a particular party or if they will simply reflect the overall results.
Nanos Research surveyed 500 respondents between Wednesday and Saturday with live agents calling numbers using random-digit dialing. The poll, which was was paid for by The Globe, has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
On Friday, UCP candidate Peter Singh, who is running in the riding of Calgary-East, confirmed the RCMP executed a search warrant at a business he owns and seized several items, which have since been returned. The UCP issued a statement on the weekend that said the party does not know the nature of the RCMP investigation and Mr. Singh’s statement said he had done nothing wrong.
Mr. Kenney, who has not held a news conference with reporters since Thursday, has not commented publicly about the RCMP search warrant.
The RCMP and the province’s election commissioner are both looking into allegations related to the UCP leadership race, including donations to one of Mr. Kenney’s rivals. A former UCP MLA, Prab Gill, said he wrote a letter to the RCMP with allegations that Mr. Kenney’s team used fake e-mails in the UCP leadership vote. Mr. Kenney has denied wrongdoing on all of those fronts and has threatened to sue Mr. Gill.
Mr. Mandel, the Alberta Party Leader, called for an investigation after claiming a supporter received an automated phone call that falsely purported to be Mr. Mandel urging voters to support Mr. Kenney.
The UCP said it was likely a legitimate call from former prime minister Stephen Harper. The party posted audio of Mr. Harper’s call on social media.