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Edmonton mayor to focus on social issues and relationship with province, feds in 2022

Click to play video: 'Year-end interview with Edmonton mayor Amarjeet Sohi' Year-end interview with Edmonton mayor Amarjeet Sohi
WATCH: In a year-end interview with Global News, Amarjeet Sohi praised the new council for working together so well, emphasized the strength in their diversity and outlined his priorities for next year. Kim Smith has more – Dec 31, 2021

It’s a tumultuous time to take the helm of a large Canadian city, but when he was elected as Edmonton’s mayor on Oct. 18, Amarjeet Sohi took on the challenge with optimism and hope.

Read more: Edmonton election 2021: Amarjeet Sohi elected mayor

“I will be there for all of us,” he said in his acceptance speech that night, addressing the economic and social challenges, as well as racism and discrimination Edmontonians have faced in the last few years.

“I see you and I hear you… I’m honoured with the privilege to lead you to a brighter future with better days ahead.”

In a year-end interview with Global News, Sohi praised the new council for working together so well, emphasized the strength in their diversity and outlined his priorities for next year.

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Diverse, new council

Edmonton’s new council made history for a few reasons. A record eight women were elected as councillors.

Sohi also made history as the first person of colour to be elected as Edmonton’s mayor.

Read more: ‘Historic moment’: 8 women elected to Edmonton city council

Sohi is proud that Edmonton city council is diverse.

“Not only the gender, ethnic, cultural diversity that you see, but also the diversity of experiences, lived experiences, professional experiences and different perspectives.”

Click to play video: 'Historic number of women elected to Edmonton city council' Historic number of women elected to Edmonton city council
Historic number of women elected to Edmonton city council – Oct 19, 2021

Eight councillors are new and four are returning, Sohi pointed out, who himself is returning to municipal politics after six years.

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The new council has been at work for about two months and the mayor says members are “working really well” together.

They tackled two big issues right out of the gate, including the budget.

Read more: Edmonton budget with 1.9% tax increase approved by council

“We passed a resolution on racism — making sure that we’re developing anti-racist policies in our city to ensure all Edmontonians feel safe,” he said.

“The most challenging conversation that we had was around police budget. And how do we make sure that we are investing in the spectrum of services and interventions that are necessary to keep our community safe? That discussion was also very respectful.”

Police budget

After hours of deliberation on Dec. 16, Edmonton city council voted to allocate less funding than originally planned for the Edmonton Police Service budget in 2022.

The EPS had expected to see $11.9 million added to its $383-million budget. But during budget deliberations at city hall Wednesday, council instead voted to reallocate $10.9 million to social agencies that will help with things like mental health calls, homelessness and incidents where police may not be the best response.

Council did vote in favour of adding $1 million to the police budget, to cover staffing costs for the new National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

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Read more: Edmonton Police Service to receive less funding than expected in 2022

In the year-end interview, Sohi said a lot of the instances police are called to are related to social issues: mental health, addiction, poverty, houselessness, historical trauma and domestic violence.

“Edmonton Police Service is one of the best-funded police services in Canada, which we are very proud of. They have a very important role in keeping us safe. We’ll continue to support them.

“But we also need to make sure we’re investing in programs and services that reduce the need for police calls and police intervention,” Sohi said.

“Investing in social programs is very important.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton police chief says funding change will impact service' Edmonton police chief says funding change will impact service
Edmonton police chief says funding change will impact service – Dec 16, 2021

Priorities for 2022

Heading into the New Year, Sohi is clearly committed to representing Edmontonians and advocating for them to all orders of government.

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He’s focused on providing services that make life better and safer while not hiking taxes too much, supporting communities, tackling houselessness, the opioid crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic and environmental responsibility.

Read more: Sohi sworn in as Edmonton mayor, commits to tackling COVID-19, opioid deaths, attacks on minorities

“As we get into next year, my biggest focus is going to be tackling those social issues and building a stronger relationship with provincial and federal governments,” he said.

“Climate change is another crisis that we have to tackle, how we recover from COVID, what kind of economy do we need to build? How do we support our small- and medium-sized businesses?

“These are interconnected issues.”

Read more: Alberta provides $21.5M to extend COVID-19 supports to emergency homeless shelters

And, he says, they require productive working relationships with both the province and the federal government.

“Our social issues of houselessness and mental health … we cannot tackle them on our own. These are provincial and federal responsibilities. That is why we need to make sure we’re working with those two orders of government.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton’s new supportive housing complexes won’t open this year' Edmonton’s new supportive housing complexes won’t open this year
Edmonton’s new supportive housing complexes won’t open this year – Dec 7, 2021

Relationship with province

Sohi said he’s working hard to “reset” Edmonton’s relationship with the Alberta government.

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He said he’s had several conversations already with the premier, prime minister and other ministers.

Sohi describes his relationship with Premier Jason Kenney as “pretty professional, pretty productive.”

“I am focused on Edmontonians. My role in this chair, as mayor of this city, is to make sure I am doing everything possible to make sure I have a productive working relationship with the provincial and federal governments… so we can deliver on behalf of Edmontonians, that we can make their life easy, that we can tackle societal issues.”

Read more: Incoming Edmonton, Calgary mayors hope for positive results with Alberta premier, UCP government

He says he has a deep commitment to collaboration.

“If we remain focused on people, and have this mindset that we’re here to serve people, that we’re here on behalf of Edmontonians — that they’ve given us a mandate and a responsibility to solve our community’s problems — I would remain focused on that.

“I will continue to do my best to foster those relationships.”

Click to play video: 'Kenney congratulates new mayors of Calgary and Edmonton' Kenney congratulates new mayors of Calgary and Edmonton
Kenney congratulates new mayors of Calgary and Edmonton – Oct 19, 2021

Measures of success

Looking to the future, how will Edmonton’s new mayor evaluate his own progress?

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“Have we made a difference in reducing houselessness?

“Have we made a difference in having fewer people suffering addiction?” Sohi responds.

His success will be also be measured by whether Edmonton is back on track towards economic recovery, he said.

“Are we continuing to provide quality public services to Edmontonians, that help them move around, that help them be successful” while keeping taxes affordable?

“I think we’ve set the right tone,” Sohi told Global News.

Read more: Mayor-elect Amarjeet Sohi welcomed back to Edmonton City Hall: ‘I’m absolutely excited’

He wants to keep creating budgets like this latest one.

“We’ve invested in areas that will help people but kept the tax rate the lowest in region and compared to other major cities in Canada.

“That would be the measurement.”

Click to play video: 'Conversations with Council: Mayor Amarjeet Sohi' Conversations with Council: Mayor Amarjeet Sohi
Conversations with Council: Mayor Amarjeet Sohi – Dec 5, 2021

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