Opposition parties merger gains support; Poll says four in 10 Albertans would agree to concept

CALGARY - A new poll has uncovered some support for a merger of Alberta opposition political parties in the wake of a Conservative landslide victory in the March election.

Four in 10 Albertans surveyed by Angus Reid Strategies said they would support, in principle, a coalition of opposition parties before the next provincial election, while a quarter were uncertain what to think of the concept.

Most of the supporters identified themselves as Liberal backers. The least likely to approve of an opposition merger were Progressive Conservatives.

"For a place that has been so dominant for one single party, it's interesting that two in five would say maybe it's time to do something different," Angus Reid pollster Mario Canseco said. "The fact that there is something new on the horizon appears to interest people."

What remains unclear from the online poll of 802 Albertans between June 24 to June 26, is whether support for a coalition would translate into votes.

A melding of the Liberals and NDP was the most popular coalition combination, followed by a combination of Liberals, NDP and Greens. Respondents weren't offered the Wildrose Alliance as an option.

Calgary Liberal MLA David Swann views the survey results as a sign some Albertans are eager for an opposition shake-up.

"This is an encouragement, I think, at the very least to working more constructively together," said Swann, who's chairing a cross-party town hall meeting in Edmonton on Monday focused on re-engaging Albertans in democracy.

Four in 10 Albertans voted in the March provincial election, the worst turnout in the province's history.

While the Liberals are in the midst of their own shake-up, searching for a new party leader and debating a name change -- some members are even musing about starting a new political movement -- the NDP appear firm on flying solo.

Party members overwhelmingly rejected a coalition with the Liberals and Greens at the NDP annual convention in Calgary last month. But Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour and NDP member, contends the Angus Reid survey underscores Albertans are open to a change of the political landscape.

McGowan, who favoured a merger, said both the NDP and Liberals need to "think outside the box" in order to defeat the Tories.

The survey offers "a very significant finding," McGowan said, "and it's one that the Liberals and New Democrats ignore at their own peril."

However, University of Lethbridge political scientist Peter McCormick doesn't put much stock in coalition talk or the survey's findings.

He thinks the main question asked by the Angus Reid poll, which has a margin of error plus or minus 3.5 percentage points 19 times out of 20, is too ambiguous to gauge support for a merged opposition.

"Supporting them forming a coalition is not the same as supporting them," he said, adding a tough road faces any new political movement after Ed Stelmach breezed through his first election as Tory leader.

"The Conservatives are in a beautiful position right now."

Edmonton Journal, Page B10, Sat July 12 2008
Byline: Renata D'Aliesio

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