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Canada Election: Federal Parties Put The Push On In Edmonton

09/10/2015 11:54 EDT | Updated 09/10/2015 11:59 EDT

EDMONTON – Janis Irwin's friends shook their heads when she won a federal NDP nomination last year to run in the Conservative-dominated capital of Alberta.

"They kind of give you that pitied look and 'Good luck'," Irwin recalls.

A year later, with the provincial NDP winning power to end four decades of Progressive Conservative rule, Irwin says the attitude has changed.

"People have told me, 'I didn't really vote much before, but I did this time (provincially) and I'm going to vote for you again in the fall'."

While Edmonton has elected a handful of Liberals in the last decade and the NDP's Linda Duncan has held Edmonton Strathcona since 2008, it's still Conservative country. The Conservatives won 27 of 28 seats in Alberta in 2011 and took two-thirds of the popular vote.

But with the provincial NDP win, a number of new ridings due to redistribution and many Conservative incumbents retiring, Edmonton – or at least parts of it – are considered in play in the federal campaign.

Irwin says voters she has met at the doors in her new riding of Edmonton Griesbach are more attuned to policy and are telling her a decade of Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not brought improvements to quality of life, social programs or housing.

But her Conservative rival, former Edmonton city councillor Kerry Diotte, says dramatic change is not what he's hearing.

"It will come down to leadership," says Diotte, famous as a fiscal hawk in his time on council. "I think Albertans realize that (under Harper) we've been blessed to have been pulled out of the worst global recession since the '30s and into a recovery that is the envy of the G7.''

Diotte is not the only Edmonton councillor, former or current, looking to jump to the federal arena.

Current Coun. Amarjeet Sohi is running for the Liberals in Edmonton Mill Woods, taking on Conservative incumbent Tim Uppal in the redrawn riding.

He says as Canada, and particularly Alberta, becomes increasingly urban, Ottawa needs to bridge a gap with cities.

"We need a partnership that talks about long-term, sustainable, predictable funding that is not left at the whim of higher orders of government,'' Sohi says.

But political scientist Chaldeans Mensah says with all three parties polling strongly, the Liberals and the NDP risk cancelling themselves out in Edmonton.

The provincial NDP benefited from a vote split on the right between the Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose party to win power in May.

Federally it could be the reverse, to the benefit of the Conservatives, says Mensah.

Mensah says it's critical for Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau or the NDP's Tom Mulcair to build momentum over the long campaign.

"That way you may find some strategic, tactical voting in specific ridings to deny a Conservative party candidate (the win),'' says Mensah, who is with Edmonton's MacEwan University.

He says the races to watch include Edmonton Griesbach and Edmonton Mill Woods, but also Edmonton West, where high profile, ex-city councillor Karen Leibovici is running for the Liberals.

St. Albert-Edmonton will see former Conservative Brent Rathgeber try to retain his seat as an Independent. Rathgeber quit the Harper caucus two years ago, refusing to acquiesce in a caucus which he said reduced backbench MPs to "blind cheerleaders.''

Edmonton and area Conservative stalwarts Laurie Hawn, James Rajotte and Peter Goldring are not running again.

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