Canadian Politics

A17(d) - Alberta in Turbulent Times

Date: Jun 14 | Time: 10:15am to 11:45am | Location:

Chair/Président/Présidente : Lisa Young (University of Calgary)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Feo Snagovsky (University of Alberta)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Jared Wesley (University of Alberta)

This panel explores political culture and behaviour in Alberta from 2019-2024, a timultuous time in the province’s political, economic, and social history. From the return of the Conservatives to power provincially and the jarring outcome of the federal election in 2019, to the ensuing turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic and decline of the oil and gas industry, this period featured dynamic swings in public opinion and behaviour. This confluence of economic, social, cultural, demographic, and other changes have challenged prevailing notions of what it means to “be Albertan,” with more traditional ways of thinking colliding with new approaches. The resulting environment has left Albertans feeling more divided than ever. But are Albertans really all that polarized? Drawing experts from throughout the Canadian social science community and grounded in a massive new Viewpoint Alberta survey dataset, this panel explores the contours and evolution of public opinion in the province to uncover areas of consensus and contention.

Trust in Public Health Leaders in Alberta Through the COVID-19 Pandemic: Lisa Young (University of Calgary), Duane Bratt (Mount Royal University)
Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic focused attention on the role of public health officials and highlighted the importance of public trust during a public health emergency. This was particularly the case in Alberta, where the role of the CMOH became highly contentious at various points during the pandemic. Using Viewpoint Alberta data from 2020 to 2023, we examine the predictors of trust in the Chief Medical Officer of Health over the course of the pandemic, building a model that includes partisanship, economic anxiety and demographic variables. This analysis helps to contextualize the controversies over the role of the CMOH in Alberta and contributes to the academic literature that looks at the predictors of trust in public health authorities.

Eyes Wide Open? Perceptions of Discrimination in Alberta: Angelia Wagner (University of Alberta)
Abstract: The Black Civil Rights movement has long fought against racism in society, but the rise of Black Lives Matter in response to police brutality against African Americans has heightened public attention to racism. Meanwhile, activists have raised the alarm about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and unmarked graves of Indigenous children at former residential schools in Canada. To understand public attitudes toward discrimination in Alberta, this chapter draws upon three Viewpoint Albert surveys conducted between 2019 and 2021. We asked Albertans for their views about the level of inequality faced by a range of social groups including Blacks, Indigenous peoples, transgender people, gays and lesbians, Muslims, immigrants, women, Christians, White people, and men. Results indicate that Albertans are acutely aware of inequality in society, with a bump in perception in 2020 during the height of the BLM, but that their views are influenced by partisanship.

Populist Drivers of Regionalism in Canada: Comparing Quebec and Alberta: Jared Wesley (University of Alberta), Evan Walker (University of Alberta)
Abstract: Drawing on survey data from the Consortium on Electoral Democracy (C-Dem), this study asks how different forms of populism drive regionalist attitudes in various parts of Canada. In particular, we ask whether populist forces of cultural and economic protectionism have disparate effects western alienation in Alberta and nationalism in Quebec. Our findings reveal that, while cultural populism and resource protectionism are driving western alienation, regionalism in Quebec is far from populist at all. Instead, anti-pluralism -- bereft of anti-elitism or anti-rich sentiments -- forms the core of modern Quebec nationalism. These results force us to reconsider the relationship between populism and regionalism -- and the connection between cultural and economic protectionism -- in Canada. They also suggest that, while there are many parallels between soft nationalism and western alienation, and even separatism in both Quebec and Alberta, populism is not among them.

Conspiracy Theories in Alberta: Feo Snagovsky (University of Alberta)
Abstract: Conspiracy theories have become more prominent in Alberta, particularly after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Drawing upon two waves of survey data from Viewpoint Alberta, the study finds that a shocking number of Albertans find a number of troubling beliefs to be plausible, including that a “deep state” embedded in the government operates in secret and without oversight, that the dangers of 5G cell phone technology are being covered up, that climate change is a hoax, and that COVID-19 was purposely created and released by powerful people seeking to control the lives of ordinary people. In addition to providing an overview of the conspiracy theory landscape in Alberta, the study examines the correlates of conspiracy endorsement in Alberta, finding that education, gender, race, media consumption, and support for the freedom convoy all predict conspiracy thinking. The paper concludes by discussing the implications that conspiracy beliefs have on Alberta politics.