The Alberta capital’s first racialized mayor paused during his swearing-in speech Tuesday to voice pride in one of the most diverse councils elected in Edmonton’s history.
Amarjeet Sohi said he’s ready to tackle issues the city faces, including the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed about 1,300 Edmontonians, a high rate of opioid overdoses and reports of violent attacks on Black and Muslim women.
“We cannot ignore how tough things have been,” the former federal Liberal cabinet minister said while standing at a podium on the stairs overseeing the lobby at Edmonton City Hall.
“I speak of this today so we can change the tide of these challenges. We cannot properly recover if we do not tackle these issues together.”
Sohi, a Sikh who emigrated from India when he was a teen, won the municipal election last week. The 13-member council he heads includes eight women and four people of colour, including the mayor.
“Look,” Sohi said, gesturing towards his council, to onlookers in the lobby and about 500 people who tuned into the livestream of the ceremony.
“Edmonton, look at who you have elected. A phenomenal, diverse group of people. This is what you have already accomplished by choosing an Edmonton for all of us. Be proud of what you have done.”
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Sohi told reporters at a news conference after the ceremony that he was also elected as Edmonton’s first racialized city councillor when he served in 2007.
As mayor, he acted on one of his election promises at the first council meeting Tuesday when he put forward a notice of motion to discuss how the city’s anti-racism committee can work with council to develop a plan to tackle racism and violence.
“Over the last year and a half, we have seen a large number of incidents, particularly against Muslim women… and also against Edmonton’s Asian community,” Sohi told reporters after the five-minute council meeting.
“It is important to me, and to this council, that we build… a city where everyone is able to… walk free of harassment, free of racism.
“That is something I’m deeply, passionately committed to.”
He added that he plans to meet with city council to address COVID-19 in Edmonton.
Outgoing mayor Don Iveson watched Sohi as he reiterated his commitment to work closely with the provincial government and United Conservative Premier Jason Kenney during the ceremony.
“Edmontonians have given this council a strong mandate to build an inclusive and thriving Edmonton,” Sohi said. “And this council is ready to reset our relationship.”
Michael Janz, who was elected as the councillor for Ward papastew, said he “had no idea” what a “wonderful council” he would get to work with.
“As Mayor Sohi said today, these are remarkable individuals and I’m already learning so much from all of my colleagues,” Janz said. “It’s going to be a really good four years.
“The most important thing right now is building relationships with the other 12 councillors … You’ve got to have people to help you out.”
Erin Rutherford, who was elected as councillor for Ward Anirniq, said she has been sensing “a lot of hope and optimism” in her community.
“I definitely felt that here today,” she said. “The words of Mayor Sohi, when he talked about collaboration and moving forward together, that’s exactly what I campaigned on.
“I’m so excited for what we’re going to be able to do over the next four years.”
Sohi said his aim will be to protect the services Edmontonians rely on while also trying to keep taxes as low as possible.
“Being in this position, leading our city through the mayor’s chair, is the greatest privilege that Edmontonians have bestowed on me and I’m going to work hard to live up to Edmontonians’ expectations,” he said.
–With files from Global News’ Phil Heidenreich