Seven years ago, when she was premier, Alberta’s NDP leader Rachel Notley was getting plaudits for how she was handling the province’s wildfires.

One of the many admirers of the job Notley was doing at the time was future and current Alberta pPemier Danielle Smith, leader of the United Conservative Party (UCP).

Smith even called the then NDP premier’s communication “brilliant” in comparison to how the Progressive Conservative government of Allison Redford handled the 2013 floods around Calgary that forced more than 100,000 people from their homes and totalled as much as $6 billion in financial losses.

Vote Compass users were asked on May 9-11 who they thought would do the best job in the face of a natural disaster.

Almost half of the respondents — 49% — picked NDP Notley over Smith as who would do the best job responding to a natural disaster.

Only 15% would want Smith in charge of Alberta in a natural disaster, according to the weighted results of about 3,000 people who responded to Vote Compass. 

Thirty-six per cent didn’t know.

While 81% of NDP supporters think Notley would do a good job responding to a natural disaster, only 52% of UCP voters think Smith is the best person for the job in a crisis.

Forty-four per cent of UCP supporters who used Vote Compass, in fact, didn’t know who would do the best job responding to a natural disaster in Alberta.

Last Thursday, at a Calgary campaign announcement about affordability for Alberta’s pensioners, an earnest-looking Smith first announced that 300 soldiers would help support fighting “these unprecedented fires” before pledging to cut fees for personal registry services, camping and medical driving exams for seniors by 25%.

Undoubtedly, handling the province-wide state of emergency declaration and electioneering requires nimble political skill.

“There’s no question it’s an opportunity,” said Lori Williams with Mount Royal University’s department of policy studies, “but it’s also potentially a liability.”

Vote Compass data suggests that when the wildfires started, Smith was at a disadvantage politically with many respondents preferring her rival for Alberta’s top job in charge during a natural disaster.

Vote Compass, by the way, is an online tool developed by a team of political scientists designed to help users understand how their political views line up with the parties running in Alberta’s general election.

“There are serious questions being asked about Danielle Smith’s abilities and competence,” Williams told CBC News on Thursday.

But Williams added the crisis presents an opportunity for Smith to “demonstrate a greater degree of competence and ability to respond” to a natural disaster.

Notably, slightly more than four in 10 (41%) of Vote Compass users give the governing United Conservative Party a somewhat good or very good grade for handling the fires burning now.

About the same number — 43% — think the UCP is doing a somewhat or very poor job handling the response to the out-of-control fires ravaging northern Alberta.

Fifteen per cent said they didn’t know. 

On Saturday, Alberta’s leading political parties made competing vows related to health care, with the United Conservatives promising investments into care for women and children as the New Democrats pledged hefty recruitment bonuses to attract more health workers to the province.

Notley, meanwhile, said if her party gains power in the May 29 election, it would earmark $70 million annually to give $10,000 signing bonuses for doctors, nurses and other health professionals in what she called an ambitious but “critical short-term measure to keep our hospitals open and ensure Albertans in need of care are getting it.”

New polling numbers released Saturday by Abacus Data show the NDP ahead in a provincewide survey, including notable gains in Calgary. The data, based on a survey of 885 eligible voters shows roughly 43%  favour the NDP, while the UCP sits at 35%

Abacus’s last poll in April had the two parties neck-and-neck at 36%.


  • Mark Bonokoski

    Mark Bonokoski is a member of the Canadian News Hall of Fame and has been published by a number of outlets – including the Toronto Sun, Maclean’s and Readers’ Digest.