Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood

Inner-city urban challenges abound, but "people look out for their neighbours."

By albertaviews

Since the constituency was first contested in 2004, only one political party—the NDP—has won election in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood. It’s the second-longest winning streak for the party (Edmonton-Strathcona has been NDP since 1997), and that sustained period of progressive political representation makes it an anomaly in Alberta. Asked why the party has had such success here, constituency resident Dave Cournoyer, creator of the Daveberta political blog and podcast, says voting history plays a part. “It goes back to the old Edmonton-Norwood riding, which first elected a New Democrat, Ray Martin, in 1982,” he says. “And then Pam Barrett was the MLA for Edmonton-Highlands for the NDP [elected in 1986]. So there’s a long history of electing New Democrats.

“There’s a working-class element to this riding, a real blue-collar element,” says Cournoyer. “There are also a lot of new Canadians here. It’s a very diverse part of the city; it’s not homogeneous. You have everything from inner-city neighborhoods such as Alberta Avenue, Boyle Street and McCauley, to older suburbs like Bellevue and Montrose, to the mansions on Ada Boulevard. There’s a broad socioeconomic range here; a lot of the issues are similar to other inner-city and mature neighbourhoods—schooling is an issue, public transit, housing and homelessness are an issue.”

MLA Janis Irwin (who secured the NDP nomination after long-time MLA Brian Mason retired) says social service issues are prevalent in the constituency, and citizens are working to solve those challenges in various ways. “We have a lot of organizations that serve folks experiencing homelessness, folks who are struggling with mental health or addictions,” she says. “We see visible signs of homelessness, we see tents. I’m passionate about looking at solutions. Housing, for instance, is a big issue throughout our riding, so we’re pushing for investments in affordable housing.”

Two of the city’s four supervised injection sites are in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood; a third is nearby in Edmonton-City Centre. The sites are contentious—in 2018 the Chinatown and Area Business Association launched a lawsuit, eventually dismissed, that sought to close the sites—but MLA Irwin is a strong advocate. “I don’t waver in my support of harm reduction,” she says. “Supervised consumption sites have been proven to save lives. We have the Boyle McCauley Health Centre in our riding that does incredible work. I had the pleasure of visiting there and I saw first-hand that it’s not an exaggeration—people are being saved.”

“I’m proud to live in one of the communities I represent,” adds Irwin. “I live in Parkdale, which borders Alberta Avenue. When I first moved there, a lot of folks were like, ‘Oh gosh, how can you move to 118th Ave?’ Because, you know, there’s a reputation. But it’s been incredible. My neighbours are fantastic. I was at a Pride flag-raising for Parkdale Cromdale Community League; as far as I know it was the first and maybe only public Pride flag raising in Edmonton, and a whole bunch of people came out—physically distanced and wearing masks—and in my remarks there I said, ‘You can drive, or bike around our community as I do, and you can see so many Pride flags and trans flags. I’m so proud to represent communities where people look out for their neighbours.’ ”

That communal spirit extends to the arts. With affordable housing prices and proximity to downtown, the constituency has seen an influx of artists. Christy Morin, executive director of Arts on the Ave, has said that when she first moved into Alberta Avenue over two decades ago, “There were a lot of social issues that needed help.” Meetings with “a ton of different artists that lived in the neighbourhood, [from] music, theatre, dance, lighting designers, wardrobe mistresses at the opera,” became brainstorm sessions about “what can we do to make this better known as a good place? So we started a festival.”

Before COVID-19, that fall festival—the Kaleido Family Arts Festival—and then the Deep Freeze winter festival on Alberta Avenue, were among the city’s most popular events. “It’s been a renaissance,” says Cournoyer. “Anybody who walks down 118th Avenue can see there’s real community.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PROFILE

Population: 43,545

(average Alberta riding: 46,803)

Constituency first contested: 2004

MLA: Janis Irwin (NDP, 2019–)

Median household income: $59,654 (Alberta: $93,931)

Population in low income: 19% (Alberta: 9%)

Main industries for employment: construction; retail trade; healthcare and social assistance; accommodation and food services; public administration

Percentage of occupied private dwellings built in 1980 or earlier: 70% (Alberta: 40%)

Percentage of pop. that took public transit, walked or bicycled to work: 27% (Alberta: 16%)

Population with a postsecondary certificate, diploma or degree: 55% (Alberta: 64%)

Top five non-official languages spoken at home (in order): Cantonese; Spanish; Tagalog (Filipino); Mandarin; German

Voter turnout (2019): 52% (Alberta: 68%)

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