From life in India to federal politics: One-on-one with Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi

WATCH ABOVE: Former city councillor Amarjeet Sohi successfully won the Edmonton Mill Woods for the Liberal Party in the October election. And now he's been appointed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet. Michel Boyer sat down with Sohi for a two-part series.

EDMONTON — Last week he was appointed Canada’s new Minister of Infrastructure and Communities and on Saturday Edmonton-Mill Woods MP Amarjeet Sohi sat down for an extended interview with Global News.

Early life in Edmonton

Sohi’s family sponsored him to come to Canada from India at the age of 17. Not able to speak English, Sohi said the transition was a struggle.

“I had no understanding of the Canadian culture,” he said. “Being from a different culture, looking different, I had my share of challenges that newcomers face.”

But while Sohi faced some bullying from his school peers, he said he had amazing support from his family and guidance from some excellent teachers.

“That is life. Sometimes you have bad experiences but my approach has always been to turn those bad experiences into something positive, to bring change.”

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Life in India and time behind bars

A strong proponent for human rights, Sohi went back to India in 1988 to work as a peace activist to promote human rights and social justice, which ended him up in jail.

“Unfortunately, I happened to be in a place where they thought me of being associated with some of the terrorist groups, which was totally, totally wrong,” he said. “But I must tell you that the support that I was able to receive from the Canadian government at that time, as well as from the local Member of Parliament David Kilgour and CSIS, within a couple of weeks it became evident to Indian authorities that what they were accusing me of was not what I was.”

While difficult, Sohi said the experience gave him a new perspective on life, which is what pushes him to make a difference in his community.

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“When you have those experiences, it’s hard to describe them because I still feel them, I still live them. Because you never forget when somebody takes away your dignity from you, when you are tortured, when you are deprived of things.”

Working with ETS and learning about City Hall

When he came back to Edmonton, Sohi worked as a bus driver with Edmonton Transit. During his time working with disabled transportation, Sohi and his colleagues rallied City Hall for improved working conditions. He said that experience taught him the inner workings of City Hall.

“That’s how I came to know some of the council members. That’s how I came to know how City Hall actually works. And that inspired me to put my name forward in 2004, which I lost. And it’s okay, it’s okay to lose because it makes you humble, it teaches you to be grounded,” said Sohi.

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He added the loss in 2004 better prepared him for his next run in 2007, which he won.

Making the move from municipal to federal politics

In 2007, Sohi was elected to Edmonton city council, winning a seat by 205 votes. Sohi said his time as a city councillor taught him that collaboration is key when it comes to tackling the big issues.

“Working together and building strong partnerships with local governments, that is what my style has been as a council member. That’s the style I will bring in this new job.”

Tight race in Edmonton-Mill Woods

After a close race on election night, a judicial recount was called in the Edmonton-Mill Woods riding. The recount determined Sohi won the seat by 92 votes. Sohi said he was pretty anxious throughout the entire ordeal.

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“You don’t know what’s going to happen and you worked hard, your team worked hard and everyone around you worked hard, so you’re reflecting on those,” he said.

Sohi believes the tight race forces accountability and keeps you on your toes.

“Sometimes when you win by a big margin, sometimes you start taking things for granted,” he said. “You become comfortable.”

“This country has given me so much. This country has allowed me to build a new life here.”

Being appointed Minister of Infrastructure and Communities

Sohi said having worked with the former minister of the same portfolio to advocate for public transit and social housing, he feels ready to work hard and deliver on the expectations Canadians have of him.

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“I felt so honoured that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has given me this opportunity,” Sohi said of the appointment.



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