Calgary city councillor George Chahal is planning on continuing his political career but at the federal level, with the Liberal Party of Canada.
On Thursday, he said it has been an honour to serve as Ward 5 councillor since 2017.
“I want to continue to do that work, just at a different capacity, and (I) want to represent Calgary Skyview at the federal level in Ottawa to make sure that northeast Calgary and Calgary is well-represented in government,” Chahal told Global News.
“I really did want to finish my work as a city councillor. And as we are closer to the end of my term, I didn’t want to think about how I could contribute and serve my community in the best manner.”
The federal riding overlaps nearly all of the Ward 5 boundaries, with some extensions south to 32 Avenue and west to Harvest Hills Boulevard. If elected in the yet-to-be-announced federal election, Chahal would have the same diverse constituents.
The former entrepreneur said advocating for Calgarians was the “lightbulb moment” to make the jump from municipal to federal politics.
“The pandemic has shown me — really over the last year — the importance of the federal government in our daily lives, in supporting residents and municipalities,” Chahal said.
He said he wants to be that local voice during a post-pandemic recovery.
“We have a tremendous opportunity to transition into the future.”
Chahal’s local efforts have included the Community-Based Public Safety Task Force, redevelopment of the Foothills Athletic Park on the advisory committee, being a Calgary Police Commissioner and bringing forward a motion that would result in supports for all Calgarians to get resilient roofing following a billion-dollar hailstorm in June 2020.
Chahal also shared representation of Ward 10 with Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra following Ray Jones’ retirement in October 2020.
When asked, Chahal didn’t say whether he discussed being a Liberal with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the head of state’s recent visit to Calgary.
“I’m grateful that the prime minister took some time to come to Calgary and to meet local small businesses in Calgary — the mayor and the premier as well — and to continue to support Calgary as we come out of the pandemic, with the announcement of the Green Line.”
Conservative Jag Sahota is the current MP for the riding of Calgary Skyview.
Darshan Kang held the riding for the Liberals from 2015 to 2018, when he left the Liberal caucus following allegations that he sexually harassed and assaulted a staffer. Kang apologized in May 2019, but a House of Commons investigation found it could verify some of the complaints.
In the 2019 federal election, Calgary and all of Alberta did not elect a single representative in the Liberal minority government.
Other federal candidates in the riding include Gurinder Singh Gill with the NDP and Harry Dhillon with the PPC.
Chahal’s announcement adds to the continued speculation a federal election is coming sooner rather than later, with some Calgary ridings seen as potentially competitive races.
“There are people on city council who you really don’t know, but (Chahal) has stepped out,” said Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University.
“I think this is a big victory for the Liberals and it really gives them a shot in the arm in a riding they think they can win.”
According to Bratt, the Liberals are targeting Calgary-Skyview, Calgary-Confederation and Calgary-Centre as potentially winnable ridings in the next election.
“There are 34 ridings in Alberta, we’re talking about competitive races in five or six of them, the Conservatives are winning everything else,” Bratt said.
“But if the Liberals win a seat in Calgary, or two seats or even three seats, it is a damaging blow to the federal Conservatives.”
Chahal intends to withdraw from the Ward 5 race for the Oct. 18 municipal election. As of Thursday, Anand James Chetty, Raj Dhaliwal, Tariq Khan and Aryan Sadat were registered candidates in the northeast Calgary ward.
Eight wards in Calgary will not have an incumbent candidate with Chahal dropping out of the municipal race. With Mayor Naheed Nehshi’s announcement on April 6 that this will be his final term, there will be a new mayor in Calgary as well.
It is the highest turnover of city council since its expansion to 14 wards in 1977.
“What was already going to be a historic number of open races in Calgary’s upcoming municipal election has gotten even larger,” said Jack Lucas, an associate professor of political science at the University of Calgary.
“We’ve never seen that before, and it means the new council is going to look very different from the council we’ve been accustomed to over the last couple of terms.”
The only councillor who hasn’t declared their intentions in the fall election is Ward 2 councillor Joe Magliocca.
As of Friday, 86 people have put their names forward vying for one of 14 city council seats, and another 20 are running for mayor.
Lucas said the number of new faces on council means a steep learning curve for new councillors, but could mean new ideas at a time when Calgary plans its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is likely to have a really profound policy effect on what the City of Calgary does in the next few years, in addition to the effect that it has on the election itself,” Lucas said.
With so many newcomers entering municipal politics, the challenge will also be on voters to do their homework before casting their ballot.
–With files from Global News’ Adam MacVicar