After a six-year absence, Amarjeet Sohi was officially welcomed back to Edmonton City Hall on Tuesday afternoon, after being elected the city’s next mayor on Monday night.
“I’m absolutely excited to be elected to lead our city into the next chapter,” Sohi said.
According to unofficial election results, Sohi received 45.09 per cent of the vote in Monday night’s municipal election. Fellow candidate and former Edmonton city councillor Mike Nickel came in second with 25.3 per cent of the vote, according to unofficial results from Edmonton Elections.
On Tuesday, outgoing mayor Don Iveson welcomed mayor-elect Sohi to city hall and congratulated him on the win.
“It’s a fantastic day to be an Edmontonian and I am thrilled to welcome my good friend and your next mayor Amarjeet Sohi back to city hall and congratulate him on a decisive victory and thank Edmontonians for rejecting the politics of fear and anger and division and embracing hope and a continued progressive vision for this city,” Iveson said.
“I’m thrilled with the results, obviously, and very excited to sit down and support the mayor-elect transition into office.”
Sohi is a familiar face to Edmontonians, having served the city both municipally and federally. He represented southeast Edmonton 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. He served one term before losing his seat during the 2019 federal election.
Sohi said his first order of business will be to reach out to everyone on council to start building a strong relationship with council members.
“If your council cannot work together, then you will not be able to deliver on expectations.”
Another order of business includes focusing on the city’s budget.
“We cannot have erratic slash-and-burn approach to budgeting. It never works. It never works and I went through eight budgets when I was a city councillor,” Sohi said.
“I managed one of the largest infrastructure portfolios in Canadian history, helped set up big institutions like Canada Infrastructure Plan, tackled controversial charged projects like Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The reason I was able to tackle those big issues is I believe in listening. I believe in building strong relationships.”
Sohi said while the city is facing some significant challenges, there is a lot of good stuff going on and he believes the foundation of the city is very strong.
“The foundation that’s built on people’s capacity. Edmontonians have been known for building and lifting each other up, and if there’s one beneficiary of that kind of generousity, that is me,” Sohi explained.
“Standing here in front of you today — someone who came to this city with nothing, someone who struggled a lot during my early days, faced racism, discrimination, bullying and marginalization and loneliness — but what this city offered from the buses that took me to school, to better work opportunities, to the library to learn to speak English and to the rec centres where I made friendships; that foundation is very strong.”
Sohi’s daughter, Seerat Sohi, said Edmontonians should expect a mayor who will be willing to have real conversations.
“Expect somebody who’s going to be honest with you, who’s going to answer the hard questions. He might not always have the answers you like, but he’s never going to lead you stray,” she said.
“He’s going to try his best, no matter who you are, to try to see things you way and help, honestly.”
She said everyone should expect the same, even if they didn’t support him through the election.
“He is open to talking to anyone. He is open to a lot of different views. The door is always open.”
The city’s relationship with the province
Sohi said he received a phone call from Premier Jason Kenney on Tuesday, congratulating him on his victory. Sohi said while it was a brief conversation, it was good.
“We talked about how we can work together to tackle COVID and the aftermath of COVID, how we recover from the COVID (pandemic) — what kind of economic opportunities exist — and how we can work together to tackle issues of houselessness, mental health, addiction. It was a very fist productive conversation.”
Sohi mentioned this is not the first time he’s worked with the premier. During his time in Ottawa, Sohi worked with Kenney and his administration on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project as well as securing funding to clean up orphaned oil wells.
“He acknowledges that when I was in Ottawa I always tried to do my best to defend the interest of Albertans. We haven’t always agreed on some policy proposals but I have always been very respectful.”
During a media availability Tuesday afternoon, Kenney said he reached out to both Sohi and Calgary mayor-elect Jyoti Gondek to extend a “hand of cooperation and collaboration.”
“There will always be some difference in view and interest between different orders of government, but Albertans rightly expect their elected leadership to work together constructively,” the premier said.
“I look forward to reaching out to many other mayors elected last night with the same message. And this is the message: let’s row together in the same direction towards job creation and economic growth.”
Elections in Calgary, Edmonton represent ‘real change’
Political scientist Duane Bratt described the election as one of “real change,” both in Edmonton and Calgary. Edmonton elected its first mayor of colour and Calgary elected its first female mayor.
In Edmonton, eight of the 12 councillors, not including the mayor, are now women. That’s a jump from two women who sat on the previous council.
“You’ve got a dramatic increase in the number of women and racialized Canadians on both Edmonton and Calgary city council, so a much more diverse council than what we saw previously and a much different council,” Bratt explained.
“There’s always optimism after an election and we’ll see if that carries itself over into governance.”
Zain Velji, who was former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi’s campaign strategist in 2017, was not surprised to see Calgary and Edmonton elect diverse mayors and councillors. He said both major cities are multicultural.
“The lazy myths and stereotypes of Alberta, I think, were disproven a decade ago with the election of Nenshi and Iveson and their re-elections, the election of the NDP, for example, in 2015,” he said.
Sohi said it’s about time there are more women — and women from diverse backgrounds — on council. He is also pleased with the diversity of the new council overall.
“Some people think that diversity is some how a wishy-washy thing, that it’s a feel-good thing. It is not. Diversity is so fundamental for making good decisions. Because when people come to the table from diverse points of view and diverse perspectives and diverse lived experiences, that is what diversity is.”
Iveson remains the mayor of Edmonton for the next week until the mayor elect and new council members are sworn in next Tuesday.
Official election results will be confirmed by noon on Oct. 22.
— with files from Sarah Ryan, Global News.