View All News Items

Teflon tarnished - Thursday, June 03, 2004 at 14:55

Thu, June 3, 2004 
Teflon tarnished


Premier Ralph Klein's political Teflon is wearing thin, according to a surprising new Sun Media poll. The Leger Marketing survey, conducted between May 27 and May 31, found that a whopping 45% of Alberta respondents believed Klein is now a "poorer leader" than when he was first elected.

Just 32% responded that they saw Klein's leadership improve since he took over the premiership in 1992. Another 12% said they saw no change; 11% expressed no opinion.

More surprising are the responses from those who identified themselves as federal Conservative supporters. Of those, 44% said they saw Klein's leadership slipping in the past decade. Another 40% said they saw it improve, 11% said it had stayed stable and 5% had no opinion.

Klein, in Beijing yesterday on a trade mission, could not be reached for comment.

Liberal leader Kevin Taft was cautious in interpreting the poll. He pointed out that its margin of error - plus or minus 5.6%, 19 times out of 20 - could erase some of the difference between Klein's supporters and his critics.

"Nevertheless, it's clear that the premier just isn't dealing with issues that are important to the public," he said.

"Things like electricity deregulation, auto insurance - he and his government appear very confused and uncertain on how to approach them."

Energy prices and auto insurance are the two issues which did Klein and his government the most damage in the past year. Wild fluctuations in power rates linked to the administration's electricity deregulation scheme struck many ratepayers as a policy experiment gone horribly wrong.

And public outrage over sky-high auto insurance rates left Klein's government scrambling for a working policy. After having promised to bring rates down to the regional average - an estimated 35% below where they sit now - cabinet offered a mere 5% rate rollback last month.

Add to that rural voters' anxiety over BSE and lingering drought conditions, and Klein's poll numbers appear to be the inevitable fallout of a lousy year in provincial politics.

"His problem is he's got these emerging political problems, and he's not getting out in front of them," said New Democrat MLA Brian Mason. "Too often he looks stuck for a response."

Klein's Conservatives, of course, disagree. Municipal Affairs Minister Guy Boutilier said he's not hearing any complaints about the premier's leadership from his constituents.

"In fact, quite contrary. The comment recently I heard is that he's the dean of all premiers in Canada, bringing the experience and a track record that is unmatched to anyone."

One University of Lethbridge political scientist said no one should try to read Klein's political demise into these numbers. For a premier so long in office, said Peter McCormick, Klein's still doing awfully well in public opinion.

"Not many people would be getting numbers like this after more than a decade in the job," he said. "He's still got what I'd call a pretty good Teflon rating.

"But it's true that the deregulation file was really mishandled, and on auto insurance he was completely reactive. And his government hasn't had a new policy idea in - let's be charitable - a few months."