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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney holds a media conference at the Alberta United Conservative Party Annual General Meeting in Calgary, Dec. 1, 2019.Dave Chidley/The Canadian Press

Tony Coulson is the group vice-president of corporate and public affairs at Environics.

Public health care looms large in the Canadian psyche. Many of us take pride in the system, especially when compared to the heavily private system in the United States. As a result, health care has become more than just a service – it’s become an important symbol of Canadian identity, with surveys suggesting that for the public, it outranks the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and even the Canadian flag.

One might be wondering where Albertans stand on health care. This week saw a strike by some Alberta health care workers, in opposition to the proposed privatization of certain services. And at the recent annual general meeting of the province’s governing United Conservative Party (UCP), the majority of delegates voted for the introduction of private health care in the province.

But Albertans overall do not appear to stand with the UCP faithful. A recent survey from the Environics Institute shows that on this topic, the UCP activists are offside with a large majority of Albertans.

Taken in August this year, the survey shows that fully nine in 10 Albertans agree that Canada should be a country with a public health care system that covers everyone and is fully supported through taxes; six in 10 agree strongly. Albertans are not only in favour of public health care, they also support its expansion; nine in 10 agree that Canada should provide essential medicines free of charge to everyone who needs them, as part of the public health care system and supported through taxes, while more than half strongly agree. These are not the numbers of a province clamouring for privatization.

This is not the first time the UCP faithful seem to have deviated from the views of Albertans. At the party convention in 2018, a motion was carried calling for parental notification and consent before a student could join a school club. Seems innocent enough, but at the time there was controversy about gay-straight alliance groups (GSAs) in schools. One high-profile UCP MLA spoke against the motion at the time, going so far as to describe it as being about “outing gay kids.”

Public polling on GSAs suggests far more Albertans support than oppose the groups. And an online questionnaire called Vote Compass, completed by more than 74,000 Albertans during the 2019 Alberta election, found that only about one in four participants agreed that “parents should be informed if their child joins a gay-straight alliance group at school,” while about two in three disagreed. On a related measure, tracking research by the Lethbridge College Citizen Society Research Lab shows that as of last fall, more than eight in 10 Albertans supported same-sex marriage, up from about two-thirds in 2009.

Recent polling suggests support for the UCP government is down considerably from the 2019 election, putting the party close to or even tied with the opposition NDP. There are no doubt many factors at play in those results, but this gulf between the UCP faithful and the broader Alberta public may be in the mix.

Vote intention polls during the first half of a mandate aren’t necessarily a huge worry for a government, but seeing your partisan base pulling away from the mainstream could be cause for concern. This may be something for the Premier and his team to consider as they move forward.

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