After saying in early May he was “seriously considering” a run for the Edmonton mayor’s seat, Amarjeet Sohi has made it official.
The former Liberal member of Parliament and Edmonton city councillor revealed Monday morning what he said “may be the worst kept secret in Edmonton.”
“I am running to be Edmonton’s next mayor,” Sohi said, making the announcement on Facebook live.
“We are at a pivotal moment where we need leadership that can mobilize the entire community to tackle the challenges that we face,” Sohi said in a media availability following the announcement.
“I believe that I have the skill set of collaboration, consensus-building and bridge-building that is necessary for us and that’s why I’m stepping up to provide this leadership.”
Sohi served on city council for eight years, after being elected in 2007.
In 2015, he made the move into federal politics as the MP for Edmonton Mill Woods. Sohi served one term, losing his seat during 2019 federal election to Conservative Tim Uppal.
Sohi previously told Global News he didn’t enjoy his time travelling back and forth to Ottawa as an MP, and is ready to be grounded in Edmonton and spend more time with his family.
Prior to his time in politics, Sohi worked as an Edmonton Transit Service operator.
“I came to this country with nothing, right? And this city has given me opportunity to grow here, including finding decent jobs. And everyone should have those opportunities, everyone should be able to have a middle-class, decent, mortgage-paying job that they can look after for themselves and their families, as well we give back to the community. And I firmly believe in that.”
Sohi said he is working on a full platform, but said his mayoral campaign will focus on rebuilding and diversifying the economy, as well as tackling social issues and climate change.
“Over the last 14 months — even before that — we have seen our economy transition and we have seen high levels of unemployment. And that, compounded by COVID and the impact of that on small businesses, on the non-profit sector, on the social sector and everyone else, I think my priority is going to be to work with community, come up with a robust plan for recovery and economic growth, but do it in a way that it helps everyone,” Sohi explained.
“I think all of us need to work together to build an economy that works for everyone and does not leave people behind. At the same time, we’re tackling systemic issues that our society and our city is facing.”
Sohi believes his previous experience both on council and as a federal MP and cabinet minister will help him achieve his goals to move the city forward.
“I think Edmontonians are looking for someone who is a bridge-builder, who can build bridges between the city and Ottawa and the provincial government and the community,” he said.
“Experience is about building relationships and I thrive at building relationships and have always had a strong relationship here with the provincial government when I was the minister of infrastructure and then natural resources — both with the Notley government as well as with the Jason Kenney government.
“I’m known to be a consensus-builder, I’m known to be a bridge-builder, I’m known to be someone who can collaborate with people from all walks of life, from all political stripes. I think that is what I will bring to the table.”
Crowded mayor’s race in Edmonton
Current Mayor Don Iveson announced late last year he will not seek re-election. So far, nine other people have officially filed paperwork to run to become Edmonton’s next mayor, including current councillor Mike Nickel and former councillors Kim Krushell and Michael Oshry.
Diana Steele, Cheryll Watson, Augustine Marah, Brian Gregg, Rick Comrie and Adbul Malik Chukwudi have also thrown their hats into the race.
It’s shaping up to be an exciting mayor’s race, according to MacEwan University political scientist Chaldeans Mensah. With no incumbent, he said the race is “wide open.”
“The candidate has to be a jack of all trades; a visionary with values that Edmontonians can share but also in tune with the needs of how the city builds after the pandemic. So I think Edmontonians will have a very, very important choice.”
Mensah said it appears there are four groups of candidates so far.
The first is the “business friendly, fiscal conservative” candidate with a similar approach to politics as former mayor Bill Smith.
“That would be Mike Nickel,” Mensah said.
The second is the “candidate that embodies a progressive vision that goes all the way back to Jan Reimer and Don Iveson.”
That’s Sohi, according to Mensah.
He said the middle group is made up of the “candidates who embody a pragmatic approach. Business acumen, business competency, combined with a progressive social liberal vision.”
This group includes candidates like Krushell, Oshry, Steele and Watson, Mensah said.
“That is a very crowded middle lane right there,” he said. “I think the middle lane offers some intriguing candidates. The question is: do they have the political organization and the ability to offer themselves as an alternative to Edmontonians?”
The final group is made up of the “no-name fringe candidates who don’t really have a real shot at winning based on Edmonton’s history of voting,” Mensah said.
Mensah said while there is a lot of value in having council experience in a mayor, he believes some of the candidates who have not sat on council would be able to learn the ropes very quickly.
“On council, that learning period is very, very short. So you need someone who has the knowledge of city council or the city administration. Therefore, that gives the candidates with past experience considerable advantage over the newcomers,” he said.
“Having said that, we are entering a post-pandemic phase of the city’s development and the case could be made that we need an entirely complete vision of the city and we need somebody who doesn’t have any baggage who doesn’t have connections to the city and was coming in with a fresh angle.
“It’s really incumbent upon Diana Steele, Cheryll Watson to make that case to Edmontonians. But it certainly is a very difficult challenge given the names that we have in this contest.”
In the end, he believes it will be a race between Nickel and Sohi.
“On the balance of name recognition, experience on council and a totality of their electoral assets, I would say the two front-runners here are Mike Nickel versus Amarjeet Sohi,” he said.
“The real contest is going to be: which progressive vision or which vision of the city is going to be dominant in this campaign? Is it the business-friendly fiscal conservative candidate? Or the one carrying the torch of Don Iveson?”
Iveson said weighing in on the mayor’s race would be inappropriate, but added he will be interested to hear where the candidates stand on a number of issues, including the City Plan, LRT expansion, energy transition, climate change, homelessness and housing.
“I think it’s for Edmontonians to draw their own conclusions. The candidates need to differentiate themselves,” he said.
He also added that previous mayors in Edmonton have had experience on council.
“It definitely helps to have had experience at city hall and on city council, understanding how the governance system actually works — both formally and understanding the informal challenges of leading a group that isn’t accountable to you, doesn’t answer to you and who you have really no ability to sanction.”
Sohi said he has been in touch with a number of his fellow mayoral candidates and is looking forward to the campaign.
“I believe that all of us have things to offer and we will put forward strong arguments and we will debate vigorously with each other but we will do that in a respectful way. And then Edmontonians will decide which vision they feel that will continue to build this city, not take it back, but continue to move it forward and move it forward in a way that we’re pulling the community together.”
Edmonton’s municipal election will be held on Monday, Oct. 18.
— With files from Sarah Ryan, Global News.