Faced with a growing budget deficit and falling oil revenues, Premier Alison Redford's Progressive Conservatives are seeing their popularity drop among Alberta voters, according to two new polls.
Just how much, though, is unclear.
A Trend Research poll, provided to The Globe and Mail, found Ms. Redford's party is sitting at 34-per-cent support, a drop of 18 percentage points in three months and just slightly ahead of the Official Opposition Wildrose Party, at 32 per cent.
Another poll, conducted by ThinkHQ Public Affairs and published Monday by CTV, shows a similar downward trend but more stark numbers: Wildrose at 38 per cent and the PCs at just 26 per cent, with particularly high disapproval ratings for Ms. Redford herself.
The polls come as Ms. Redford backs off spending promises made in last year's election and warns of "tough choices" in Thursday's budget, expected to show the province's sixth consecutive deficit.
"I think Redford made a lot of promises during the election, and Albertans are disappointed those promises are being broken," said Calgary public-opinion consultant Janet Brown, who commissioned the Trend poll with Paul McLoughlin, publisher of the Alberta Scan newsletter.
While the two polls use different methodology, and produced different final numbers, "they're both showing a steep decline for the PCs," Ms. Brown said.
Both polls show large numbers of undecided voters, but also show Wildrose well ahead in Calgary, the province's biggest electoral prize. Both also showed the NDP in third place, at 16 or 17 per cent, followed by the Liberals, at 13 or 14 per cent.
Ms. Redford's post-election honeymoon is over, ThinkHQ president Marc Henry said, and the government has struggled to lay out a coherent plan to return the province to surplus. "The biggest problem the government's starting to get into is one of trust," Mr. Henry said.
Ms. Redford's budget dilemma threatens the centrist coalition she relies on to fend off the right-wing Wildrose. Facing the prospect of cuts, tax hikes or borrowing, she risks alienating both her left and right flanks. On Monday, for instance, leaders of the province's biggest unions jointly called on Ms. Redford to avoid deep cuts.
"There's absolutely no doubt we're disappointed with Alison Redford, and frankly we think most Albertans should be disappointed as well," Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said, adding cuts would mean "something close to a betrayal," for Ms. Redford.
Ms. Redford blamed budget problems on a "bitumen bubble," or lower oil price. The union leaders called it a misnomer. The Premier's spokesman would only say the polls evoke "memories of the last election," which Ms. Redford won after Wildrose pulled out to a large lead before collapsing.
Albertans are three years away from an election. The Trend Research poll used live telephone interviews with 900 people, with a margin of error of 3.3 per cent. The ThinkHQ poll used online responses from just more than 1,000 people, with a margin of error of 2.8 per cent.