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Edmonton Griesbach candidates: Kerry Diotte (CPC), Janis Irwin (NDP), Brian Gold (Liberal), Heather Workman (Green)

What’s happening in this battleground riding?

Conservative. Conservative. Reform. Alliance. These party names have dominated the old political landscapes of Edmonton East and Edmonton-St. Albert for decades.

But Edmonton Griesbach — a new riding made from parts of these two ridings during the 2012 electoral redesign — is wearing orange.

A local poll has the NDP with a 16 per cent lead over the Conservatives, and 48 per cent of the overall vote.

Advocacy group Leadnow’s current campaign, Vote Together, has targeted several ridings where they believe there is a tight race between a Conservative and another candidate, explained Vote Together regional organizer Leslie Cramer.

Cramer says the goal of Vote Together is to have different people in power so that Canadians can push their representatives to change the first-past-the-post voting system.

She points to a “broken electoral system” where the Conservatives received only 39 per cent of the popular vote, but 100 per cent of the parliamentary power in 2011.

Two-way race: Janis Irwin vs. Kerry Diotte

Before the campaign, NDP candidate Janis Irwin worked in Alberta’s Ministry of Education.

One of her key roles was managing the senior high school social studies curriculum. Previously, she was a teacher and vice principal.

Irwin says the biggest issues amongst people in her riding are the economy and affordability, and that she is meeting people everyday that are struggling.

She gave examples of seniors having to decide to pay either rent or for prescription drugs out of pocket because of “pensions that are inadequate” and because Canada has no national pharmacare program, something she and the NDP want to change.

Irwin says she met a mother of four who has to choose between putting food on the table and paying rent. There is lack of accessible and affordable housing in the riding, according to Irwin.

Irwin emphasized, “Conservative policies weren’t doing our neighbourhoods very well.”

Cramer added, “I think a lot of people see [Irwin] as an amazing candidate who would be better rooted to the community than Conservatives in the past.”

Conservative candidate Kerry Diotte was an Edmonton City Councillor from 2010-2013 and a long-time journalist for the Edmonton Sun. In 2013, he lost a mayoral bid to Edmonton mayor Don Iveson, finishing third place.

In one of his videos, he says he was attracted to the Conservative party after being a fiscal watchdog on city council.

His campaign office has yet to respond to request for interview.

Alberta Orange Crush and the riding redesign

The 2015 Alberta election saw a major, unexpected Progressive Conservative upset. The PCs lost 60 of their 70 seats.

But Irwin says, “People aren’t bringing [the provincial government] up a whole lot…most people get that something like falling global oil prices isn’t related to our provincial government, but a lot of people are hopeful because they saw change at the provincial level.”

Edmonton-Calder, the provincial electoral district that overlaps most with Edmonton Griesbach, was won by the provincial NDP with nearly 70 per cent of the vote.

Danny Mallet, acting political director for the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), said they’re targeting the riding partly because of the provincial success.

According to Cramer, since 2006 there has been an increase in NDP support in the parts of Edmonton-St.Albert that are now Edmonton Griesbach.

Irwin agrees the riding redistribution could aid in a NDP win, but says they are not taking anything like that for granted, and “continues to knock on doors every single day.”

Labour eyeing riding

Mallet says that Edmonton Griesbach is one of approximately 90 seats the CLC is targeting nationally.

Mallet points to “good union density” and a CLC campaign that had Linda Duncan elected in 2008 in Edmonton-Strathcona, a seat that wasn’t a NDP priority according to Mallet, as reasons why the CLC’s influence is important.

Duncan was the only non-Conservative to win an Alberta seat in the 2008 and 2011 elections.

Marianne Hladun, Regional Executive Vice President of the Prairies for the Public Service Alliance of Canada, says PSAC also has their eyes on the riding.

At a convention earlier this year, PSAC delegates voted on a resolution for a “campaign that would see the defeat of the Harper Conservatives,” explained Hladun.

PSAC hosted an Edmonton Griesbach all-candidates forum in September, which saw members of all major parties, except the Conservatives.

According to Hladun, Irwin “most definitely would be a responsive candidate,” Irwin was the first candidate to agree to the forum and encouraged others to do the same.

Hladun says it is “frankly shameful” that Conservatives have not attended; she wants them to be held accountable for their decisions in parliament.

Responsive candidate

Irwin sees a broad understanding that Harper has had enough time in power, and people are searching for someone who will be a responsive representative.

Hladun believes Irwin is that candidate, and Cramer has seen a lot of people who agree.

Likewise, Irwin sees herself and the NDP offering a more transparent government than the Conservatives.

Irwin concluded, “People across the spectrum are getting behind us here. They know in our riding it is a two-way race. It’s going to be myself or the Conservative candidate.

And we haven’t had a non-Conservative in decades; I think people are motivated that this time around we can elect someone different.”

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Tyson Kelsall is a freelance writer. Follow him online @TysonKelsall.