Alberta is more progressive than you think

Alberta is more progressive than you think

Progressives in Alberta are now the quiet majority.

Sweeping demographic changes have drastically changed what was Canada's most conservative province. The cause of these demographic changes has been massive interprovincial and international migration. In just the past nine years, 531,000 people -- a city almost half the size of Calgary -- has moved to Alberta. This huge group has no connection to traditional conservative Alberta politics. They totally missed the Ralph Klein era knowing only Ed Stelmach, Alison Redford and for a brief period, Jim Prentice.

In the midst of all of that change Alberta has also become one of Canada's youngest, most educated and urban provinces -- all traits that correlate with identifying as progressive.

And Albertans do identify themselves as progressive. A recent Abacus Data pollcommissioned by Progress Alberta found that 59 per cent of Albertans consider themselves progressive. The online poll ran from Dec. 2 to Dec. 7 and included a representative sample of 1,000 Albertans.

Conservatives in Alberta are vocal, well-connected and well-funded but they are not the majority.

"Urbanization, in-migration, and generational change are all shifting the province's political attitudes and behavior. Most Albertans think the province has become more progressive in the past year. More identify as progressive than they do conservative. And the province's most popular political leader [Naheed Nenshi] is seen as a progressive himself. Perhaps it might be time to reconsider the notion that Alberta is Canada's most conservative province," says David Coletto of Abacus Data.

Your neighbours, coworkers and family also aren't as conservative as you think. When asked to rate themselves on a political scale a plurality of people identify as progressive but when asked to put "other Albertans" on the same political scale the results skewed heavily conservative. In other words, Albertans drastically overestimate how conservative their neighbors are.

Conservatives in Alberta are vocal, well-connected and well-funded but they are not the majority. Progressives are. We've been sold a bill of goods that Alberta is this great conservative heartland -- it isn't.

Compared to the rest of Canada, Alberta is a demographic anomaly. The 18 to 35 year old demographic is simply massive here compared to the over 55 set. According to the Abacus poll more than two-thirds of Albertans age 18-29 identify as progressive. Alberta also has twice the university graduates it had in 1991. More than two thirds of these graduates identify as progressive.

As one piece of evidence of Alberta's changing values, Faron Ellis at Lethbridge College's Citizen Society Research Lab has measured significant movement in six years of polling. Support for gay marriage has jumped 16 per cent. Support for legal doctor-assisted suicide jumped 16.3 per cent. Support for the decriminalization of marijuana has jumped 15.6 per cent.

Progressive policies at the provincial level also turn out to be very popular. Raising taxes on the highest earners comes in with 68 per cent support in the Abacus poll. More Albertans support than oppose the three planks of Alberta's climate plan -- a carbon tax, coal phase out and an emissions limit on the oil sands. And a majority of Edmontonians and Calgarians support a phaseout of coal-fired electricity generation and a legislated emissions limit on the oil sands.

These are significant levels of public support. And yet, you wouldn't know this massive shift had happened if you were going by the tone and tenor of talk radio, political news coverage or op-ed pages. Right wing, anti-tax, free-market lobby groups and thinktanks continue to get a disproportionate amount of news coverage.

Progress Alberta is a response to these massive changes in this great province. It will be a positive, proudly progressive force that will help build a stronger, more diversified economy, a healthier environment, a renewed democracy and a more inclusive province for all Albertans.

And when you look at the evidence -- the demographic shift, the election results and the polling data the conclusion is clear. Alberta's political identity has changed and it's changed for the better. It's time to pull together and build a brighter future for the province that we love.