This is a pivotal election for Edmonton.
I know people say this for every election, and it has perhaps grown mundane and meaningless, but at the Rat Creek Press candidates forum, it struck me that there is a wide breadth of perspectives offered in this mayoral race. This municipal election feels significant as there is no mayoral incumbent running for the first time in eight years. All kinds of people have thrown their hats into the ring to fill this void and the result is that the city of Edmonton has been offered many different paths forward.
People probably haven’t been paying much attention, as we just wrapped up a federal election, so in case you haven’t heard: Don Iveson is not seeking re-election. Our city will be electing a new mayor in addition to city councillors and school trustees on October 18. The mayor’s seat is an important one and, while they only get one vote on council, they play a big role in shaping city politics.
Don Iveson won his second and final term in 2017. Incumbents are statistically far more likely to win, and this discourages people from coming out to vote. While there was a diversity of candidates in 2017, there was also poor turn out to forums and seemingly little engagement. Perhaps the reason this year feels so different is because the mayor’s seat is truly up for grabs and, with Don Iveson retiring from council, anyone could win.
The candidates present at the forum were Cheryll Watson, Rick Comrie, Diana Steele, Amarjeet Sohi, Michael Oshry, Kim Krushell, Brian Gregg, and Abdul Malik Chukwudi.
This mayor’s race features candidates who are business leaders like Watson and Steele, as well as those with council experience like Sohi and Mike Nickel. There’s even those with experience in both the private and public sectors, such as Krushell and Oshry. Then there is “Breezy” Brian Gregg, the free-spirited leftist candidate by day, musician by night, and the more right wing Comrie, with bold ideas about Trudeau and climate change. There is truly something here for everybody — something about it felt like democracy in action.
Sohi is clearly the biggest contender, as he has experience on city council and as a federal MP and cabinet minister with the Liberal government from 2015 to 2019. In addition, Sohi seems to be the only candidate who has the charisma needed to fill Don Iveson’s shoes. Sohi is a household name and, in addition to his 15 year-long career in politics, he has a long history as a community leader in Edmonton, working for the Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) union and the Mill Woods Crime Council.
However, it didn’t feel like Sohi was some big celebrity who stood high above the other candidates. Because a mayor only has one vote on council, municipal politics serves as an equalizing force, and one that keeps all parties humble. Members of council have to collaborate and avoid partisanship to get their work done. Despite their drastically different views, there was a sense of camaraderie and kindness shared by all the candidates.
However, Comrie raised that mayoral candidate and current city councillor Mike Nickel is perhaps the exception.
“There’s one candidate that’s not here, and he’s continuously not here…he’s decided not to participate, but I think honestly, it’s showing that he can’t get along with people,” said Comrie. Nickel was not in attendance at this forum, and also declined invitations to other forums. Given his poor attendance at these forms, in addition to his often combative relationship with others on council, it’s fair to question how well he could work to build consensus with others if elected.
COVID-19 recovery had been a major talking point for the federal election but it applies on the municipal level as well. At the forum, candidates discussed policing and crime, homelessness, addiction, developing the exhibition lands, LRT expansion, and racism in Edmonton. These are issues that voters care about passionately and impact our day-to-day lives, yet the last municipal election in Edmonton saw a voter turnout of only 31.5 per cent.
This year needs to be different.
Sadly, incumbent Don Iveson won’t be leading our council anymore and Edmonton needs to find a path forward just as much as Canada as a whole does. Besides economic hardship, this past year has been a reckoning on many other fronts: how does Edmonton want to structure policing in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement? How does Edmonton want to address homelessness after the emergence of Camp Pekiwewin? How can our city address the increase in racist, hate-motivated attacks against Muslim women? All of these issues have been brought into the limelight by the pandemic and the candidates recognized the importance of addressing them.
Edmonton needs a strong new leader to tackle the many issues our city faces who can also build consensus and bring people together. While the mayor has no great amount of political power, it became clear to me at the forum that with a new mayor comes a new vision for our city. Let’s all make sure to go out and vote for the vision that we want to see.