It was not close.
Former city councillor and Liberal cabinet minister Amarjeet Sohi dominated the ballot boxes Monday night, in a way that even Sohi’s most adamant supporters could not have imagined. With 45 per cent of the vote (as of 10 p.m. MT Monday), Sohi beat back the challenge from Mike Nickel with the same sort of ease as the Oilers had with the Flames on Saturday night.
And, it took Sohi less than an hour after the election was called in his favour to issue his first challenge to the provincial Tories.
“We want our provincial government to be there with us, too,” Sohi said in his victory speech. “We want them to be there to fight the fourth wave of COVID. We want them to be there for us to end houselessness, to help support mental health and to fight a drug-poisoning epidemic that’s claiming our neighbours, friends and family members at a record and unconscionable rate. It must stop. We need our provincial government to be our partner. We must work together to make life better for Edmontonians. By working together, we will make our city stronger than before. We will build an Edmonton for all of us.”
In the debates leading up to the election, candidate Michael Oshry pointed out that the city was suffering because of a strained, antagonistic relationship with the provincial Tories. This relationship, or lack of one, was a topic in several of the candidates’ forums.
But Sohi wasted no time in trying to shed his nice-guy image. He could have said, “I look forward to working with our provincial partners.” But he chose instead to highlight that the province is not doing enough for the city. He chose to take the first shot, an aggressive tack on a night of change at city council.
Sure, we can focus on the dreamy “make the impossible, possible” part of Sohi’s speech. But the most significant portion was his willingness to talk tough, to speak directly to Premier Jason Kenney, who may have been watching the feed.
In the end, it looks like Mike Nickel’s presence as the foil on the right side of the agenda worked in Sohi’s favour. The vote-splitting in the centre did not happen, as former councillors Kim Krushell and Michael Oshry did not bleed support away from the mayor-elect. In fact, if anything, potential support for Krushell and Oshry fled to Sohi, in order to ensure that Nickel didn’t benefit from a horse-race between the more moderate members of the field.
Throughout the campaign, Nickel chose not to engage with the other candidates — he consistently skipped debates and forums. Had Nickel won, ideologies aside, it would have sent a troubling message — that it would be a winning strategy to avoid face-to-face debates with other candidates. Nickel said in his concession speech that he bore the responsibility for the loss. Well, then, he needs to think hard about his continued strategy of absences. A mayor must work with so many others — the council, other mayors, other levels of government, business leaders. If a candidate skips the heat of the debate, how can the candidate be trusted to work with others? To sit through difficult meetings? To shake hands with those holding different political points of view?
As well, Nickel did not respond to Edify‘s requests to be part of our series of profiles on the mayoral candidates.
“This has not been a waste, you have given voice to thousands and thousands of Edmontonians who want change,” Nickel said to those who supported him. And, in his concession speech, he warned that Edmonton “is in for some very tough times ahead” by supporting what he called the status quo.
Sohi will be presiding over a council with many fresh faces, including Top 40 Under 40 alumna Keren Tang, former school board trustee Michael Janz (also a Top 40 Under 40 alumnus), Erin Rutherford, Karen Principe, Ashley Salvador, Jo-Anne Wright and Anne Stevenson. As of 1o:25 p.m., Jennifer Rice held a slim lead over Rhiannon Hoyle in Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi.
Incumbents Bev Esslinger, Tony Caterina, Moe Banga and John Dziadyk all fell to defeat — a stunning evening, considering that incumbents won more than 90 per cent of the time in the last quarter-century’s worth of municipal elections.
Nickel said it’s the status quo. But, from here, council looks to be very different moving forward.