Next Edmonton mayor hopes for positive results with Alberta premier, UCP government

·5 min read

Edmonton’s next mayor says his goal with Premier Jason Kenney will be to keep it respectful and get things done.

“We haven’t always agreed on some policy proposals, but I have always been very respectful,” Amarjeet Sohi said Tuesday following his win in the municipal election a day earlier.

“I have never engaged in personal attacks and that’s what I am absolutely going to continue to practise.”

Sohi said the premier called him after his win.

“We talked about how we can work together to tackle COVID and the aftermath of COVID, how we recover from COVID and what kind of economic opportunities exist, and how we can work together to tackle the issues of houselessness, mental health (and) addiction.”

Sohi is a former federal Liberal MP who served in the cabinet of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau before losing in the 2019 election.

He joins Jyoti Gondek, who was elected the first female mayor of Calgary.

The incumbents – Don Iveson in Edmonton and Naheed Nenshi in Calgary – did not run again after each served multiple terms.

Gondek echoed Sohi's approach.

"You can't be in an elected position and hold a grudge or have hard feelings. I know I don't," she said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"I'm hoping to build a healthy relationship with the provincial government. It's actually, probably, the most critical thing to make sure we move toward economic, social and environmental resilience.

"We all have mutual outcomes that we wish to see so I remain optimistic that we'll be able to build those relationships."

Kenney told reporters he wishes all elected members well and hopes to work constructively with them.

“I think it’s important for us to avoid turning municipal politics into a partisan exercise,” he said.

“Our government will work with all of the mayors and councillors elected to try to move in the same direction.”

Sohi and Gondek are left-centre progressives and defeated rivals deemed more in keeping with Kenney's conservatism.

A number of incumbents were shown the door as voters opted for widespread change in Alberta’s two largest cities. Eight of Edmonton’s 12 councillors are women and four are people of colour.

Sohi and Gondek ran campaigns focusing on economic recovery and addressing social inequities. Both face some fence-mending with Kenney’s United Conservative government.

Nenshi and Iveson often crossed swords with the premier. They criticized his government for drastically cutting funding to their cities and, more recently, decried lack of consistent focus and leadership during the COVID-19 crisis.

Nenshi urged voters on Twitter on the weekend to vote against Kenney’s “ridiculous referendums.” Questions on the federal equalization program and daylight time were on the ballot.

On CBC’s West of Centre podcast days earlier, Nenshi said it wasn’t so much the political stripe of Kenney’s UCP government but its inability to manage.

“I can deal with any ideology. The challenge is sheer incompetence,” he said.

Iveson, on the same podcast, said the Kenney government’s combative approach hinders progress. “The style of leadership that is to pick fights rather than work with others works well to win elections … but it doesn’t actually solve problems,” he said.

Kenney ran and won the Alberta election in 2019 on a “fight back” strategy to challenge anyone, including Trudeau’s government, who he saw as frustrating Alberta’s best interests. His government has since publicly fought with teachers, nurses and doctors over policies and wages.

He once publicly dismissed Trudeau as "an empty trust-fund millionaire who has the political depth of a finger bowl'' and labelled Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer “brain-dead” for her state’s environmentally focused opposition to Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline under the Great Lakes.

Political scientist Chaldeans Mensah said Gondek and Sohi have the chance at a reset with Kenney.

“If they approach him diplomatically and are willing to avoid overt attacks on the premier, there’s a possibility of a positive relationship,” said Mensah of MacEwan University in Edmonton.

One of the province's referendum questions was whether Alberta would like to see equalization removed from the Constitution. Kenney has said he doesn’t want that — Alberta can’t do it unilaterally anyway — but he wanted a majority "yes" vote to open discussion with the federal government on equalization and other issues he deems unfair to the province.

Final results will not be available for a week, but early reports from municipalities suggest it will pass.

Kenney estimated about 60 per cent voted in favour, which he said would be more than enough.

“We’re looking for a majority to say yes to a fair deal,” he said.

Political scientist Duane Bratt said if Kenney was hoping for a decisive mandate along the lines of Quebec secession referendums, he didn’t get it.

“How do you say, ‘I’ve got a mandate to negotiate,' when you’ve got (potentially) less than 60 per cent and less than 50 per cent turnout?” said Bratt of Mount Royal University in Calgary.

The province also asked if Albertans wanted to ditch changing their clocks twice a year and adopt daylight time year-round. Final results on that are not in yet.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 19, 2021.

— With files from Alanna Smith in Calgary

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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