Canada ELECTION INSIGHTS: How Jason Kenney became the biggest issue sapping Conservative support
Live updates: Leaders face off in only federal election debate in English
This is the Montreal Gazette’s live coverage of tonight’s federal leaders’ debate. Questions/comments? firstname.lastname@example.org Top updates: Ahead of debate, leaders agree on something, urge Canadians to get vaccinated Leaders arrive at debate site On Twitter, leaders focus on vaccinations, economy and getting the voting out Welcome to our live coverage Here’s the agenda for tonight’s debate Leaders gearing up for English-language debate tonight after French joust Tonight’s debate could be crucial, pollster says Too close to call – Liberals and Conservatives running neck and neck, polls suggest François Legault favours minority Conservative government Lacklustre secon
For the rest of Election 44, the National Post will be sharing insights from Polly, an artificial intelligence engine developed at the University of Ottawa that was. Unlike typical polls, Polly gauges public opinion through constant computer analysis of public social media posts: If you’ve ever posted something political to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you’re probably part of Polly’s dataset. Today, a look at how a COVID-19 crisis in Alberta is affecting the Tory brand.
Polly sifts through millions of Canadian social media posts every single day, and in the final stretch before election day there is one figure that is dominating the country’s online discourse more than any other: Jason Thomas Kenney, the 18 th premier of Alberta.
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Canadians can typically go an entire federal election without knowing the name of the Alberta premier. But in just the last 48 hours, Kenney has become the most-discussed topic among Canadian voters.
As of press time, the average Canadian social media post was nearly twice as likely to be about Kenney than about “cost of living.” It was three times more likely to be about Kenney than about the “job market.”
Even in Alberta-ignoring Ontario, mentions of Kenney were blowing past the usual standards this election: climate change, the economy, $10 daycare and vaccine passports.
Alberta is suffering more COVID-related ICU admissions than at any other point in the pandemic. Children’s hospitals areall non-essential surgeries to cope with the surge, and the province is scrambling to medevac patients to neighbouring provinces to deal with the flood.
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Critical to the surge has been large pockets of unvaccinated Albertans. While the province’s overall vaccination rate is about on par with the national average, in some rural areas the rate of fully vaxxed adults is as low as 20 per cent.
Video: Will Jason Kenney’s unpopularity shift Conservative support in Alberta? (cbc.ca)
Meanwhile, the Liberals have piled on Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole for past comments in which he praised Kenney’s response to the pandemic. On Thursday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeauthe whole country could look like Alberta should the Conservatives have a chance to implement their pandemic plans.
Polly’s analysis confirms the Liberal view that this is indeed a golden issue for them. The program tracks social media posts in which the user states that they will be eschewing a particular party for a specific reason.
David Staples: Kenney says message of hope was a mistake: "Hope is not a strategy in dealing with a dynamic public health challenge"
Premier Jason Kenney has few kind words for what he sees as the increasingly careless behaviour of many unvaccinated Albertans, but does he not take some responsibility for empowering them? On Facebook on Thursday night, and again in an interview with me Friday, Kenney knocked the unvaccinated for what he sees as a constellation of ill-considered behaviours: refusing to get the jab, refusing to get tested when they have symptoms, going out into public when they’re sick, and only coming to the hospital as a last resort when they need ICU care.
And right now, the number one reason drawing voters away from the Conservatives is “Jason Kenney.” The number three reason drawing voters to the Liberals is also Kenney, behind “daycare” and “climate crisis.”
What’s less clear, however, is what effect all this Kenney talk is actually having on the final seat count projections.
As of Polly’s latest projections, the Conservatives remained within spitting distance of victory on Sept. 20. Polly had the Tories taking 128 seats against the Liberals’ 133 — and that’s a margin that’s stayed relatively consistent all month.
Alberta — the epicentre of Kenney opposition — remains solidly Conservative. Polly is still projecting that Albertans will deliver 30 of its 34 seats to the Tories on election day (with two each for the Liberals and the NDP). That’s three less than in 2019, but actually better than how O’Toole was doing in Alberta when the campaign began.
The popular vote tells a different story. According to Polly, the biggest beneficiary of last weeks’ events appears to be the People’s Party of Canada. It was Kenney’s reimposition of COVID-19 restrictions — not his perceived failures on pandemic policy — that spawned a sudden rise in PPC support at the direct expense of Conservative votes.
In just the last week, Albertan support for “other” parties has jumped from seven per cent to 13 per cent. The Conservatives, meanwhile, have seen their share of the popular vote fall from 54 per cent to 49 per cent.
It’s very rare that more than half of Albertans are planning not to vote Tory in a federal election, but with Conservative support so deeply entrenched in the province it’s probably not going to flip any seats.
Kenney may ultimately only sway a few votes on Sept. 20, but in an election that is likely to be decided by a handful of close ridings in Ontario, the Alberta premier’s sudden emergence as a convenient conservative bogeyman is not great news for the Tories.
FIRST READING: 'Screw everything, let's be Conservatives again' .
The election is over, but First Reading will continue to publish a special daily edition keeping you posted on the travails of Canadian politicos, all curated by the National Post’s own Tristin Hopper. To get an early version sent direct to your inbox every weekday at 6 p.m. ET, sign up here. A mere four years after Jason Kenney began his epic journey to parachute into provincial politics, unite Alberta’s warring conservative factions and ascend to the premier’s office, there are rumours that his days as Alberta leader may be numbered .