Cowboys, nodding oil pumpjacks on the prairie landscape, conservative politics — you could fill a Ford F-150 pickup truck with stereotypes about Alberta.
But a new national poll suggests Canadians’ views of Alberta are a lot more complex than the clichés.
The survey of 1,500 people suggests many Canadians think Alberta is a good place to raise a family or for a young person to pursue a career. But only half of Canadians who reside outside the province say they’d actually feel comfortable living in Alberta. And a slight majority of those same Canadians (53 per cent) don’t think Albertans care enough about climate change.
“We just wanted to know what people really think about Alberta,” said John Wright, executive vice-president of Maru Public Opinion, describing his motivation to conduct the research in partnership with Calgary-based Janet Brown Opinion Research.
The political podcast West of Centre recently dissected the data that examines how the rest of Canada perceives Alberta.
The representative poll gauged Canadians’ attitudes toward Alberta, asking them if they agreed or disagreed with almost a dozen statements — including whether Alberta is viewed as a welcoming place for new immigrants or open to new ideas.
Wright says he believes the results highlight how different aspects associated with Alberta appeal in different parts of the country.
“The majority of Canadians have an affinity to elements in Alberta, but they’re different in different parts of the country,” he told CBC News in an interview.
Quebecers, for instance, agree in higher numbers than people in other regions of Canada that Albertans are more tolerant of others who are different (58 per cent) and that the province is well positioned for the economy of the future (59 per cent). Seventy-one per cent of people in Ontario consider Alberta a good place to raise a family.
David Herle, a political consultant and partner at The Gandalf Group, a Toronto polling firm, says he thinks Alberta’s vibe hasn’t been all that cool lately.
Herle says that in recent years, Canadians have mostly heard angry voices coming from Alberta, shouting about the unfairness of equalization or climate change mitigation policies, such as the carbon tax.
“None of that looks very future-focused, and none of that’s very reflective of Calgary or Edmonton, I don’t think,” Herle told West of Centre host Kathleen Petty.
Calgary-based pollster Janet Brown, who helped Maru conduct the research, stresses that how Alberta is perceived in the rest of the country is important for the province’s bottom line, noting that Alberta needs to be seen as a welcoming place if it wants to attract workers to the province.
“We need new people with new skills,” Brown said. “Recruiters are out there looking to fill very high-skill positions right now in tech and renewable energy…. So I absolutely believe our reputation matters.”
Concerns about climate change could also factor into whether Canadians want to relocate to Alberta.
Canadians’ climate change concern
Undoubtedly, the oil and gas sector, along with mining, plays a huge role in Alberta’s economy, making up 26 per cent of the province’s GDP.
The industry is a big part of the province’s brand, Wright says.
And the United Conservative Party government is determined to defend that brand, even setting up a $30 million “war room” to combat what it considers misinformation about Alberta’s oil and gas industry.
Premier Jason Kenney seems determined to get Alberta’s economy cooking with oil and gas again, recently channelling the 2008 U.S. Republican campaign slogan “Drill, Baby, Drill!” in a tweet, championing an uptick in oil and gas activity.
It all adds up to concern in many Canadians’ minds on just how serious Albertans are about dealing with climate change, Wright says.
“If all you have is an oil drum to bang … then that’s what you’re going to be known for,” he said.
Fifty-three per cent of Canadians outside of Alberta somewhat or strongly disagree that Albertans care about climate change. Four in 10 Albertans also disagree with the same statement.
“Outside of Alberta, people think that Albertans, the Alberta government, doesn’t care enough about the environment and doesn’t care enough about climate change,” Herle said.
Perception, however, doesn’t always match reality.
Most Canadians probably don’t know that Alberta appears poised to become the country’s leader in utility-scale wind and solar capacity in four years.
“There are a lot of voices here that are trying to talk about how Alberta can be part of the solution for climate change,” Brown said, “but then there’s other voices that make it seem like we’re digging our heels in.”
Kenney gets more respect outside of Alberta
Kenney doesn’t get much appreciation at home, with the survey finding that just 29 per cent of Albertans respect him.
The number is higher in the rest of Canada. Forty-one per cent of Canadians say they respect Kenney, while notably 58 per cent of Quebecers say they respect the Alberta premier.
“Two and a half years later, and it’s a very different place, and Albertans have very different concerns,” Brown said. “Jason Kenney still wants to talk about jobs, economy and pipelines, but Albertans need to talk about something else right now.”
Wright says he thinks Kenney’s controversial handling of the COVID-19 pandemic tarnished the once-popular premier’s image.
“How [COVID-19] has been handled has certainly damaged the ability of the premier to say, ‘Look, I’m a good manager,'” he said.
Herle says he wonders whether Kenney, a longtime federal cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s government, really knows Alberta, given all the time he spent in Ottawa.
“I’m wondering whether Jason Kenney himself doesn’t have an outdated, stereotypical view of what Alberta is,” he said.
This survey was conducted Nov. 25-26, 2021, by Maru Public Opinion in partnership with Janet Brown Opinion Research. The survey sampled 1,512 Canadians, using Maru Voice Canada online panellists. For comparison purposes, a probability sample of this size has an estimated margin of error (which measures sampling variability) of +/- 2.5%, 19 times out of 20. Subsets of the sample (provincial proportions) will have a larger margin of error. The results have been weighted by education, age, gender and region (and in Quebec, language) to match the population according to census data, which ensures the sample is representative of the entire adult population of Canada. Discrepancies in or between totals when compared with the data tables are due to rounding.