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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

alberta politics: state of the opposition.

They may have dropped to the fourth largest party in the Legislative Assembly in 2010, but the NDP are the first out of the starting gate to nominate a candidate for the 2012 election. The Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview NDP have scheduled their nomination for May 5, 2010. As far as this blogger knows, local teacher and 2008 Edmonton-Centre candidate Deron Bilous is the only candidate seeking the nomination. The constituency was represented by NDP MLA Ray Martin from 2004 until his narrow defeat to Tory Tony Vandermeer in 2008. Under the interim proposed boundary changes for 2012, the new Edmonton-Clareview constituency would reduce Mr. Vandermeer's 2008 margin of victory down to 101 votes. With recent polls looking quite different than those of 2008, past results could mean very little in two years.

Word has it that a recent shake up in the NDP was not limited to their departing Executive Director. Some recent turnover on the board of executive officers has introduced some fresh blood onto the tiny party's central bureau (since no table officers are listed on the NDP website, it is left to this kind of speculation). While they are reported to have raised $681,000 in 2009, insider sources have told me that slower economic times have contributed to a decline in individual donations in 2010, making staff layoffs likely.

Not too far behind in their search for candidates is the Liberal Party, who I have been told are hoping to nominate candidates in Edmonton-Decore, Edmonton-Glenora, Edmonton-McClung, Edmonton-Mill Woods, and Edmonton-Rutherford by Fall 2010. The Liberals are reported to have raised $768,000 in 2009, but are struggling to even hold their support in the polls, a problem that has some Liberals talking about a palace coup.

The Liberals may also be looking for a candidate to run in an upcoming by-election if rumors that one of two Calgary MLAs run for Mayor this Fall. A growing number of Liberals in Calgary are seriously talking about supporting a Mayoral bid by popular Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr. One Liberal told me that Mr. Hehr "is seriously considering running for Mayor, and is currently arranging lunches with former Bronco heavy weights." A by-election in Calgary-Buffalo would be an ideal opening for a new party with a potential candidate who has extensive experience organizing a winning election in that progressive downtown constituency.

Meanwhile, Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith is taking advantage of not being burdened with the responsibility of holding a seat in the Assembly by delivering campaign style stump speeches across the province. Ms. Smith's party remains strong in the polls and raised nearly $700,000 in 2009 (most since she became leader in October 2009.

Monday, March 29, 2010

alberta politics notes 3/29/2010

- Don Braid has all the latest news on the Highwood PC revolt, including the letter sent by Constituency officials to PC Party President Bill Smith.
- Sometime campaign manager Don Lovett is reporting insider rumours about heightened tension between Liberal Party leader David Swann and his party executive committee. As reported in the Alberta Political Notes 3/09/2010, the tension is nothing new and may create some interesting confrontation at the upcoming Liberal Convention in May 2010.
- According to How'd they Vote, since the beginning of the current session of Parliament on March 3, Alberta MPs Ted Menzies, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Linda Duncan, Mike Lake, and Rob Merrifield are the Alberta MPs who have spoken the most on the floor of the House of Commons. Alberta MPs Brian Storseth, Peter Goldring, and Rob Anders have not spoken a word since the beginning of the current Session.
- Calgary-West MP Rob Anders is the latest Conservative Party convert to the Wildrose Alliance (not to be confused with Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson).
- Via Trish Audette, a new politics magazine has launched in Canada. The first issue features an interview with Danielle Smith and includes a photograph taken by yours truly, which the editors failed to credit under the Creative Commons licensing (#FAIL).

"nearing the precipice of moral insolvency to govern."

I bet there are some people who were wishing this letter would have just been a cruel April Fools joke:

In a blistering, unprecedented letter to Premier Ed Stelmach, a key Progressive Conservative riding association says the party is "nearing the precipice of moral insolvency to govern."

The Highwood riding board charged that the Tory party "is bereft of policy, planning, execution, follow-through and communication to the members of the party, and, most importantly, to the citizens of Alberta."

Without a rebirth of grassroots participation, the letter says, "this party can expect no mercy from the electorate on the election day, which is just two short years away."
Highwood PC MLA George Groeneveld was dropped from cabinet in January 2010 after serving as Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development since December 2006. After his departure from cabinet, Mr. Groeneveld told the High River Times:
"I was a little surprised to be removed," he told the Times. "I was hoping for another year. But at the same time I was there three years, which is about par for a minister."
He said he is getting a "little long in the tooth" (a term his wife hates), he said with a laugh, and he thought that may have been a factor as well. The premier might have been trying to bring in new blood.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

foster care fiasco.

For many reasons, so much about politics in Alberta's Legislative Assembly reminds me of the above scene from The West Wing.

I used to believe that the toughest job in the Alberta cabinet was held by Health & Wellness Gene Zwozdesky, but lately I am starting to believe that it is actually held by Children and Youth Services Minister Yvonne Fritz. Following this week's shenanigans and resignation over foster care funding, it is clear that something is not functioning properly in our government.

On Monday morning, NDP leader Rachel Notley held a media conference leaking a public document that outlined changes to foster care funding in the Edmonton region. Ms. Notley claimed that the plan was to cut foster funding, and called on Minister Fritz to rescuing the new funding formula. She did and insisted that she told department officials not to cut support. Paula Simons raised the issue in her Tuesday column: Was Minister Fritz sabotaged? Does the Minister actually have a handle on the decisions being made inside the Minister of Children & Youth Services?

Minister Fritz was appointed to the portfolio in January 2010, replacing Banff-Cochrane MLA Janis Tarchuk, who had not excelled when faced with challenges in that Department.

Yesterday, Premier Ed Stelmach undoubtably breathed new life into the foster care issue by accusing the NDP of playing politics with the issue. While he may have been trying to save face, his point is somewhat well taken. Should Ms. Notley have brought the issue directly to Minister Fritz? Ms. Notley claims that if she had brought the issue directly to the Minister, it would have been buried (not an unjust assumption). At what point does this kind of political gamesmanship become irresponsible? Like so many issues raised in the Assembly, what was really accomplished when they devolve into this kind of weekly round-robin?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

207 days until mayoral vote 2010.

Following Mayor Stephen Mandel's recent announcement that he will be running for a third-term in office, I have a couple of quick thoughts on the October Municipal election:

1) A cake-walk through the park? It is really too early to tell whether Mayor Mandel will face an easy re-election in October. In the non-race for Mayor of 2007, second place challenger Don Koziak earned 25% while only running a semblance of a city-wide campaign. I would not underestimate the electoral potential of an even moderately organized & well-funded outsider/anti-Council candidate, especially if it looks like Mayor Mandel is going to cruise to another victory.

2) Opposition is split. Mayor Mandel enjoys wide-spread support and the opposition he does face appears to be fragmented around varying issues. The people who are furious about the closure of the Edmonton City Centre Airport or annoyed about the funding of the Art Gallery of Alberta are unlikely to vote for the same candidate as the people angry over the Capital Power-Epcor decision. At this point, no champion challenger apparent has emerged with the potential of galvanizing this dissent (watching Season 3 of The Wire has taught me that even two or three reasonable challengers could bleed a Mayor's support and create some interesting results).

3) What issues? There are no shortage of issues that I hope will be the focus of debate in this election (urban sprawl, inner city schools, regional amalgamation, and others that I plan to write about over the next six months), but the one issue that may have the potential to create a major wave is the Katz Group's desire to have the City of Edmonton to fund $400,000,000 for a new downtown arena. The Katz Group has hired long-time PC-insider Peter Elzinga as a lobbyist and launched a political campaign to "Revitalize Downtown" in advance of the election. Mayor Mandel was an early supporter of the downtown arena, but remains publicly coy about his position on the actual Katz Group proposal.

Meanwhile in Calgary, the race to replace retiring Mayor Dave Bronconnier remains eerily quiet. Former PC MLA Jon Lord and food activist Paul Hughes are in the race. Former Ontario NDP MPP George Dadamo entered the race last Summer and has since dropped off the political map. Game show contestant and Alderman Ric McIver is widely expected to join the race and an online campaign to draft Mount Royal University professor Naheed Nenshi is growing.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

poll post: 2010 edmonton mayoral election.

Question: Mayor Stephen Mandel has announced his intentions to seek re-election in October 2010. If the election were held today, would you vote for Mandel?

Results: Yes: 64%, No: 36%

Question: Mayor Stephen Mandel has announced his intentions to seek re-election in October 2010. Who should step up to challenge him?

Top 5 Results: Kevin Taft, Don Iveson, Michael Phair, Brian Mason, Roberto Noce.

Monday, March 22, 2010

mayor stephen mandel to run for re-election.

Edmonton Journal columnist Scott McKeen is reporting via Twitter that Mayor Stephen Mandel is expected to announce whether or not he will run for re-election in the October 18, 2010. Mayor Mandel was re-elected to a second term in 2007 with 65% of the vote. He served as Councillor for Ward 1 from 2001 until becoming unseating Mayor Bill Smith in 2004.

In May 2009, I wrote a blog post speculating some of the contenders who could replace Mayor Mandel.

UPDATE: At a media conference held at the Bissell Centre this morning, Mayor Mandel has announced his intention to seek re-election for a third-term as Mayor of Edmonton. It is not yet known whether he will face a strong challenger in his campaign for re-election.

turnover at the alberta ndp office.

Word on the street is that Alberta NDP Executive Director Sandra Houston is resigning to pursue an job in Islamabad, Pakistan involving women and democracy. Ms. Houston has held the position for a couple of years and is considered a close ally of leader Brian Mason, something that has frustrated many reform-minded New Democrats that I have spoken with.

The Wildrose Alliance and Progressive Conservative Party have also had recent turnover in their offices leading to the hirings of new Executive Directors Vitor Marciano and Patricia Godkin. In September 2009, Corey Hogan became Executive Director of the Liberal Party after filling a vacancy left after the resignation of long-time Executive Director Kieran Leblanc in 2008.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

perfesser dave's five paths to obscurity.

In his most recent blog post and column in the Saint City News, David Climenhaga (aka Perfesser Dave) pointed out five main challenges that the new Alberta Party faces in becoming relevant in the 2012 election. It is a good list and these challenges do not face the new Alberta Party alone. Mr. Climenhaga is also accurate in describing the challenges facing the other opposition parties in Alberta.

While the Wildrose Alliance, now led by Danielle Smith, has been successful in raising piles of cash through their oil and gas sector bankrollers, both the Liberals and New Democrats have had a difficult time raising the kind of funds needed to compete with the near 40-year governing Progressive Conservative Party. In 2007, the Liberals led by Edmonton MLA Kevin Taft raised over $1 million, but it remained a miniscule amount compared to the PC Party's multi-million dollar war chest.

For all the talk of vote-splitting among the opposition parties, the political field is really not that crowded. In 2008, over 60% of Albertans stayed away from the polls, which signals that Albertans are hardly overflowing the polling stations to split votes. Even the electoral equations provided by the Democratic Renewal Project show that a merger of Liberal and NDP votes in recent elections would only create a moderately-sized opposition. It is true that the new Alberta Party leader, Edwin Erickson, is not high profile and is unlikely to be the next Premier of Alberta, but once you step out of the political echo chamber or away from the Dome, all the parties become irrelevant. For all their hard work, show a picture of David Swann or Brian Mason to a random person on the street, and you will likely get a puzzled look.
Voter Turnout versus Eligible Voters (Alberta 1975-2008)
Total Vote: Party Breakdown (Alberta 1971-2008)

Mr. Climenhaga claimed that the Alberta Party is a group of "self-important yuppified professionals who would like to go straight into power." I have met with some of the organizers of the new Alberta Party and some of them are even good friends of mine. I can attest that while they are ambitious (and perhaps a bit naive), they are not what Mr. Climenhaga describes.

I have spoken with many Liberals and New Democrats who remain befuddled as to why anyone would attempt to start something new, rather than join the ranks of the already assembled politicos. On many levels, the people behind the new party are looking for a cultural shift in Alberta politics. Although they may agree with some of the policies promoted by the traditional political parties, they see the culture of these traditional parties as part of the problem. The Alberta Party organizers appear to be fully aware of the risks of failure and that they are stepping beyond the political comfort zones of many people already involved in other parties.

I know many jilted Liberals and jolted New Democrats who have resolved to bask in the glory days of Pierre Trudeau or Laurence Decore and Tommy Douglas or Grant Notley. I somewhat admire their political stamina and strength (or madness) in the face of adversity, but I also completely understand why a group of young politically ambitious reformers would want to chart their own course. Joining a group that has become content with spending decades in the relative obscurity of the opposition benches is hardly attractive if you are serious about changing government policy.

Building a new political party from the ground up is hard work. The current leadership of the Liberals and New Democrats inherited a base of support and network that has existed for decades. Considering that the party was formed only eight years ago, the growth of the Wildrose Alliance is impressive (recognizing that it did have roots in the mini-resurgence of the Randy Thorsteinson-led Social Credit Party in 1997). It will be interesting to see whether the people involved with the new Alberta Party can actually build something different.

Contrary to what you may sometimes read on this blog, I do not always enjoying pointing out the flaws of Alberta's opposition parties. I wish they would do better. I wish for opposition parties that were not uncompetitive in half the constituencies represented in the Assembly. I wish for a competitive election in 2012 that will attract Albertans back to the ballot booths. If the current polling trends continue, it looks like it may be competitive, but it remains to be seen who will actually be the contenders.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

the rural alberta advantage.

While speaking to the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties this week, Premier Ed Stelmach confirmed the obvious when defending his government's decision to increase the number of constituencies in the next election: it was in order to preserve the existing number of rural constituencies in the Legislative Assembly. This decision continued the over-represention of rural Alberta ridings in the Assembly, despite rapid growth in the urban centres.

With a few exceptions, the PCs have been able to rely on non-competitive electoral districts in rural Alberta since wiping out the Social Credit rump in 1975. Over the past 39-years, the PCs have relied heavily on rural politicians as a "farm team" to replenish their ranks of rural MLAs (some now include Premier Stelmach, and Ministers Jack HaydenIris EvansRay DanylukLloyd SnelgroveMel Knight, and MLAs Wayne DrysdaleBroyce JacobsRichard Marz, and Len Mitzel).

The PCs have dealt with competitive elections in the two major urban areas (Edmonton and Calgary), but the threat of a Wildrose insurgency across Alberta would be cause for great concern and is likely the reason behind Premier Stelmach's posturing over rural over-representation.

electoral boundaries mashup.

Earlier this week, I posted the poll-by-poll results from the 2008 provincial election for Calgary and Edmonton, and (once again thanks to reader Alan Hall) posted below are the 2008 results superimposed over the proposed boundaries from the interim report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission. A listing of the interim ridings with the 2008 results and margins are also posted below. If the political environment continues to change before the expected 2012 election, the past electoral results could mean very little, but until that time, these maps provide an interesting view of the previous election and what could be in 2012:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

wayne cao sings.

I am speechless... and unsure how I missed this until now. Calgary-Fort MLA Wayne Cao sings on YouTube... could it be the next trolololololo?

Monday, March 15, 2010

interim electoral boundaries report attracts some interesting responses.

An NDP letter writing campaign to change the name of a northern riding to Notley-Central Peace, at least two messages sent from a Blackberry, and a hand-written congratulatory note from Minister Iris Evans are among the many Spring 2010 submissions to the Electoral Boundaries Commission. The Commission recently published its interim report and maps, and is set to hold its second round of public hearings on April 12 to 30, 2010.

For readers interested in the political implications of the changes, thank reader Alan Hall, who emailed me these Calgary and Edmonton maps and poll-by-poll results from the 2008 election (data provided by Elections Alberta). It would be interesting to see these poll results transposed on the interim boundaries and the final report boundaries (due in July 2010).

alberta politics notes 3/15/2010

- New polls from Angus-Reid (Wildrose: 42%, PC: 27%, Liberal: 19%, NDP 9%, Other 3%) and Environics (PC: 34%, Wildrose: 30%, Liberal: 23%, NDP 10%). Calgary Grit has more on these polls.
- According to the PC Party website, Patricia Godkin has replaced Jim Campbell as Executive Director (Mr. Campbell recently joined Cenovus Energy as their Vice-President Government Relations and Corporate Accountability). Ms. Godkin previously served as Director of Finance and was the acting Executive Director in 2007 after the resignation of Peter Elzinga. While holding the interim position in 2007, Ms. Godkin faced a challenge from outgoing PC Youth President David McColl, who published an op-ed in the Calgary Herald predicting that "PC Alberta will continue its slow death march, to the beat of a rural drum and tired, stale policies."
- Vitor Marciano is expected to become the new Executive Director of the Wildrose Alliance. Mr. Marciano recently stepped down from his position on the National Council of the Conservative Party of Canada and served as Campaign Manager for Edmonton-Centre MP Laurie Hawn in 2004 and 2006, and for Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq in 2008. In 2006, he supported former Edmonton-McClung PC MLA Mark Norris' bid for the PC leadership. This is the second prominent Edmonton conservative to join Danielle Smith's staff in recent months. In February, former PC Party VP Outreach and 2004 Edmonton-Strathcona candidate Shannon Stubbs became Executive Assistant to Ms. Smith.
- Former Edmonton-Meadowlark Liberal MLA Maurice Tougas has written a piece in this month's Alberta Views Magazine that focuses on Danielle Smith's time on the Calgary Board of Education from 1998 to 1999. Mr. Tougas' reliance on comments from former Trustee Jennifer Pollock provided a fairly one-sided perspective of the issue. You can read my four part series Smith v. Board of Education part 1part 2part 3, and part 4.
- The Alberta Party has posted an update on The Big Listen.
- Tyler Shandro has raised some interesting questions about the interim report of Alberta's Electoral Boundaries Commission.
- Three years after the a committee of top-tier economic experts recommended increasing the royalty rates collected by the provincial government, Premier Ed Stelmach has cut back the amount of resource royalties that are collected. The Pembina Institute responded by pointing out that "Albertans, the owners of the province's oil and gas resources, were completely left out of the process of reviewing Alberta's royalty rates."

Saturday, March 13, 2010

closing inner city schools in edmonton.

The threat of proposed school closures in inner city Edmonton has once again riled opposition MLAs into a frenzy on the floor of the Legislative Assembly. Declining student enrollment has led to Edmonton Public School Board to propose the closure of 11 inner city schools in January 2010 (Delton, Eastwood, John A. McDougall, McCauley, Norwood, Parkdale, Spruce Avenue, Capilano, Fulton Place, Gold Bar and Hardisty). It is difficult not to sympathize with the pleas of these MLAs' constituents, but each time that an opposition MLA rises to demand an answer from the Minister of Education about these closures the issue gets more muddied.

For the purpose of this blog post, I am going to ignore the politically charged and conspiracy driven accusations of opposition MLAs and focus on specific comments from two Edmonton MLAs:

Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood MLA Brian Mason:
"many schools in the inner city are in danger of being forced to close as the number of schools in Edmonton’s suburbs expand."
The proposed school closures have very little to do with the provincial government or the Department of Education and more to do with how our cities have grown over the past forty years. Edmonton's Public School Trustees are ultimately responsible for the fate of these schools and the reality is that young families are not moving into the inner city in the numbers needed to keep these schools operating. They are moving to the suburbs and to the outlying municipalities in the Capital region, which have experienced unbridled urban sprawl in recent decades. The reality is that there is a market demand for single-dwelling residential properties (contributed to by both cost and the desire to have a detached home with a yard).

Having grown up in one of Edmonton's outlying communities, I can testify that it was a great environment to be raised. As someone who has lived in the urban core since moving to Edmonton, I know that there are some areas that I would not want to raise my children. This said, continued urban sprawl is not a solution to Edmonton's growth challenges. The further our city sprawls, the more expensive it will be to provide the kind of services that are idealized. Urban sprawl is unsustainable.

Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald:
"If the city of Edmonton increases population density in the central neighbourhoods as planned, we will need the student spaces now being considered for closure."
Inner city communities, like Alberta Avenue, have taken exceptional steps to challenge stereotypes and create more family friendly environment in their neighbourhoods. New residential and commercial development in downtown Edmonton as well as the development of the City Centre Airport lands over the next 20 to 30 years could create an inner city renaissance that could breath new life into Edmonton's inner city schools.

If Edmonton's urban core does witness a population density increase that attracts more young families, it is very likely that these school buildings, could be available to be reopened. As far as I am aware, it is undetermined what would be done with these proposed closed schools. Kevin Kuchinski has written a blog post on the potential usages for these schools if closed.

Well-funded special interests like the Katz Group have been focusing their energies on convincing Edmontonians that the urban core would be revitalized through the public funding of a new arena. A new arena could have some economic benefits to the downtown core, but it does not address the larges societal issues facing the core or how our cities are growing. If urban sprawl is unsustainable, what are our municipal leaders doing to create an inner city that is friendly and welcoming to young families? Urban sprawl is the root cause of the school closures decision facing our elected School Board Trustees.

When School Trustee and City Council candidates start knocking on doors before the October 18, 2010 elections, Edmontonians who care about the future of our inner city neighbourhoods should remember that the school closures are not the result of a nefarious political agenda, but a result of how we have let our city to grow.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

alberta politics notes 3/09/2010

- Jokes about politicians ducking responsibility usually aren't literal. Premier Ed Stelmach first denied seeing the widely covered photos of the now infamous oil-covered Syncrude ducks. His communications armada then changed the story, claiming that the Premier misunderstood the question and has seen the photos. Next question: How do you feel?
- Edmonton City Councillor Don Iveson shot back at Minister Luke Ouellette over the neutered Green Trip Fund. Premier Stelmach originally promised $2 billion for the fund in 2008, but it was later cut back to $520 million over three years. Since 2007, the City of Edmonton has made major investments into improving and expanding the capital city's transportation infrastructure.
- The United Nurses of Alberta have opened negotiations with Alberta Health Services. UNA entered negotiations with a reasonable short list of proposals addressing key issues for nursing in Alberta. Alberta Health Services responded with a full proposal document that included an unprecedented number and scale of rollbacks (Transparency Alert! I am employed by UNA).
- AHS CEO Stephen Duckett versus Minister Gene Zwozdesky and Premier Stelmach on "pay for performance" and the Tom Baker Cancer Centre? Is Dr. Duckett trying to get fired? Who is steering the ship? It has certainly put Don Braid in a tizzy.
- With Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier on his way out of the Mayor's Office, can Calgarians expect a Ric McIver - Naheed Nenshi showdown? Will former Calgary-Nose Creek MLA Gary Mar return from Washington DC to take a run for the job?
 - Liberal MLA Kent Hehr running for Mayor might be an inside joke, but how about his counterpart Dave Taylor? Word on the street is that the Calgary-Currie MLA and former radio star is growing tired of playing second fiddle to Liberal leader David Swann. Taylor was thrown a bone when he was tapped to launch the new Liberal energy policy in January, but rumor has it that Taylor's organization has been constantly challenging Swann and that the situations is tense inside the Liberal caucus. Confrontation may come to a head at the May 2010 Liberal Party convention.
- A battle is shaping up for the federal Conservative Party nomination in Lethbridge. Nomination candidates include Jim Hillyer and Mark Switzer are seeking their party's nod. Conservative MP Rick Casson has represented the riding since 1997 and was re-elected in 2008 with 67% of the vote.
 - Former Edmonton-Strathcona MP Rahim Jaffer
pleaded guilty to careless driving in an Ontario court, but charges of cocaine possession magically disappeared. Mr. Jaffer was sentenced to a $500 fine.
 - I was interviewed by Edmonton Journal editor
Sheila Pratt for a feature article that was published this part weekend on Reboot Alberta. The article also features comments from Ken Chapman, Shannon Sortland, David Maclean, NDP MLA Brian Mason, and Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald - who accused to the group's participants of being "elitist." Andrew McIntyre rebutted Archie McLean's suggestions that Reboot Alberta could become a debate society. I ask: would a real debate society be a bad thing?

Sunday, March 07, 2010

photo post: jasper avenue from 97th to 124th street

This weekend, I took a stroll along Edmonton's Main Street - Jasper Avenue - starting on 99th Street through 124th Street in downtown Edmonton. I brought a camera with me and took some photos along the way (check out Flickr for more).

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This photo post is the first in a series that will cover some of the major streets and neighbourhoods of Edmonton.