Edmonton mayoral candidates: Amarjeet Sohi
Edmonton's mayoral candidate with the most experience hopes that background gives voters the confidence he can run an entire city.
Amarjeet Sohi's previous terms as an Edmonton councillor and Member of Parliament make up the forefront theme of his pitch to voters.
“No other candidate has the experience that I have," Sohi told CTV News Edmonton in an interview over the summer.
His experience as an elected representative dates back 14 years when, after one failed attempt, he earned his first seat on Edmonton's city council. Sohi successfully ran again four years later, before entering the federal arena with the Liberal Party in Mill Woods. Before losing the seat in 2019, Sohi served as minister of the infrastructure and natural resources files.
Asked about his qualifications to now sit in Edmonton's mayor's spot, he was quick to point out his work on the city's Yellowhead conversion project, removing 50 Street's rail crossing, and securing dollars for Fort Edmonton Park's expansion.
“I want to use my experience and my connections and my knowledge to serve Edmontonians and build a stronger economy," he said.
A stronger economy is a key tenet of Sohi's platform, albeit a multifaceted one.
“This pandemic has exposed deep vulnerabilities in our city: the precariousness of the jobs and the vulnerability of small and medium-sized businesses when communities get shut down, the plight of seniors in care homes, homelessness, mental health, addictions, poverty," he commented.
“These are interconnected issues. You can’t have a thriving downtown if people living in downtown are still facing mental health, addiction, poverty, homelessness, which leads to disorder, which leads to safety issues, and scares people away from being downtown.”
The mayoral candidate calls his vision for Alberta's capital city "a community where everyone should be able to thrive, where everyone should feel that they're part of it."
It stems from his own immigration to Canada decades ago and having built a family and career "with basically nothing."
"Times were tough," he recalled of the years he spent as a transit driver, and his wife a meat plant worker and student, while the couple raised their daughter. "But this is a community that has given us the opportunity to prepare and live up to our fullest potential."
He wants the same for every Edmontonian, and believes the key to a thriving economy is tackling social challenges which, when left unaddressed, present a huge cost.
He appears to agree with outgoing Mayor Don Iveson's belief that affordable housing can help reduce taxpayer-funded expenditures such as healthn care and policing, the latter of which consumes the largest percentage of the city’s expenditure budget.
He promised to champion the concerns of health and other public sector workers, who've kept services running during the pandemic; continue to invest in the city's LRT, bus, bike and road networks; and advocate for provincial and federal action on mental health and addictions.
“This provincial government has not lived up to its responsibility to tackle social issues," Sohi said of Alberta's current United Conservative government led by Jason Kenney.
He also said provincial budget cuts in the education and health sectors have disproportionately affected Edmonton.
Sohi insisted the criticism wasn't a matter of party politics, but a result of more responsibility having been downloaded to municipalities over the last few decades.
If elected, he said he would make a case to the higher levels of government that "if Edmonton is not thriving, Alberta will not thrive.”
Sohi wants to see property taxes kept "affordable," and would keep public services like police "properly" funded.
During his time on council, Sohi sat on the police commission and developed what he called strong relationships there.
“On the other hand, I also know a large number of racialized Edmontonians who do not feel safe in this city, or whose interactions with police are not as they would like to be," he told CTV News Edmonton, calling his standing unique.
“I’m really worried about that if you polarize this issue, you can actually divide community not actually get to solutions. And where I am, I think I’m in good position to actually pull both sides together."
His approach to the divisive topic echoes his approach to other economic and social priorities.
“I believe a stronger economy and a stronger social fabric and sustainable Edmonton and equitable Edmonton -- they are interconnected issues," Sohi said.
"We need to make sure we are looking at these issues in a systemic way.”
GET TO KNOW YOUR CANDIDATE
What is your favourite meal in the city?
“Oh my God, that’s a tough one," Sohi says before settling on chicken curry. "It’s hard to cook naans at home. So fresh naans at a restaurant are always good.”
What is the best summer activity in the river valley?
“Walking, absolutely. Being there, enjoying the nature – I love that.”
What is your favourite viewpoint or public art piece in Edmonton?
Sohi's favourite viewpoint in Edmonton is a vantage point on Saskatchewan Drive overlooking the river and downtown.
“Walterdale Bridge itself. It is just a stunningly beautiful, beautiful scene.”
The scene made the final cut of Sohi's campaign promo.
Do you have any unknown talents or hobbies?
“A lot of people don’t know that I was a theatre actor, that I performed a number of plays in the city, here in Edmonton, and performed throughout the country in my early days," Sohi says.
In fact, he was studying under a playwright when he returned to India in the 1980s and was taken as a political prisoner.
He wrote the play "Komagata Maru: The Journey of Early South Asian Immigrants to Canada," a story about Indian immigrants who were barred from entering Canada in the early 1900s and the aftermath of the event.
What was the last book you read?
How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi.
Sohi said he also recently reread Shauna Singh Baldwin's What the Body Remembers, about life in pre-partition India.
What sport do you enjoy playing or watching the most?
Sohi's first response is that he hasn't played much, recently.
"You know, I'm getting old," he chuckles.
However, soccer is an old love dating back to his youth in a Punjab village. He played on the school team, and tries to still get together to play with friends.
“I was a good player, actually.
"Now, I think, now I’m at a stage where your brain and your body don’t coordinate properly to tell you where the ball is going to be."
What did you want to be when you grew up?
“I don’t know. Growing up in a small village, life is simple. You go on, do your daily stuff: helping your family, look after the farm and doing little things here and there to help your parents, and going to school and as a kid, playing with other kids," Sohi recalls.
“At that time, I really didn’t think what I wanted to be. And never imagined being in Canada, anyways. Growing up, we didn’t even know what Canada was."
He continues: "Even if I had imagined to be something growing up as a kid, probably this is not what I imagined.”
"That’s why I love this place, because this place has given me so much to be proud of and so much to build my life on."
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Dan Grummett
Edmonton Top Stories
WATCH LIVE | PM Trudeau names new defence, health, foreign affairs ministers in sizable cabinet shakeup