Jyoti Gondek, a self-described centrist city councillor, will be the next mayor of Calgary, while former federal Liberal cabinet minister Amarjeet Sohi will return to civic politics as Edmonton’s new mayor.
Ms. Gondek will be Calgary’s first female mayor and Mr. Sohi will be the first person of colour to hold the position in Edmonton after they each won their respective elections on Monday.
In addition to casting ballots in municipal elections, Albertans voted on a pair of referendums: one on removing equalization from the Constitution, and another on switching to permanent daylight time. The official results of the referendum votes won’t be released until next week.
Ms. Gondek and Mr. Sohi will replace the high-profile, progressive mayors of Alberta’s two largest cities at a time when the province continues to struggle with the combined effects of a years-long downturn in the oil sector and the COVID-19 pandemic. Mayor Naheed Nenshi of Calgary and Mayor Don Iveson of Edmonton are both preparing to leave office after deciding not to run for re-election.
In Calgary, Ms. Gondek will take over leadership in a city where steep job losses in the oil sector have led to a vacancy rate of about 30 per cent in the downtown office market, upending the city’s finances. The vacancies wiped out billions of dollars in value from downtown skyscrapers in just a few years, prompting cuts and other measures to blunt the impact on businesses elsewhere in the city.
Ms. Gondek told a small gathering of staff and media in Calgary that city council must keep its attention on rebuilding the economy.
“I will ensure that we stay focused on a recovery that is rooted in economic, social, and environmental resiliency,” she said.
Jeromy Farkas, a one-term city councillor who ran on a platform that focused on low taxes, public safety, and attacking Mr. Nenshi’s 11 years in office, placed second in Calgary’s mayoral election. Councillor Jeff Davison placed third.
Ms. Gondek was born in the U.K. and moved to Canada with her parents, who were originally from India. She was first elected to Calgary’s city council in 2017.
She was previously the director of the Westman Centre for Real Estate Studies at the University of Calgary’s business school. Before that, she worked in marketing at Greyhound Canada and two Alberta credit unions.
Ms. Gondek campaigned on rebuilding the economy by turning Calgary into an “energy transition” hub and fostering innovation. She also said she would improve amenities and services such as public transit, in order to ensure the city is an attractive place to live and help local companies recruit talent.
The rapid decrease in property assessments for downtown office towers shifted the tax burden several years ago to commercial landlords elsewhere in the city, who faced steep property tax increases. The municipal government responded by spending more than $200-million over several years to offer relief to businesses, including $13-million this year alone.
Ms. Gondek pledged to continue work on Calgary’s Greater Downtown Plan, which she supported as councillor. The plan aims to turn the city centre into a mixed-use neighbourhood, in part by converting some office towers to rental apartments to reduce the amount of vacant office space.
She is also calling for the provincial government to use a portion of its share of property taxes to help the city cope with lower downtown property assessments.
In her victory speech, Ms. Gondek singled out the vacancy problem as a major priority as she prepares to take office.
“Together with the business community and our creative sector, your city council will deliver on the vision of a revitalized downtown that brings about spaces and places that are welcoming and alive,” she said.
“We’ll work with our economic development partners and real estate experts to ensure that our vacancies become a thing of the past, because we will have evolved our buildings into active hubs at all hours of the day.”
Ms. Gondek supported COVID-19 policies such as mandatory masks and vaccine passports. She criticized Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s handling of the pandemic, describing his decision to lift nearly all public-health measures over the summer as an “abdication of responsibility.”
Ms. Gondek will take over from Mr. Nenshi, who made history himself in 2010 when he became the first Muslim mayor of a large North American city.
Mr. Nenshi led Calgary through a devastating flood in 2013 and later through the downturn in the oil sector. He also oversaw a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics, which was scrapped after it was rejected in a plebiscite. More recently, he has been a frequent critic of Mr. Kenney’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Edmonton, Mr. Sohi is returning to city hall. He was a councillor in the city for eight years until he was elected federally in 2015. Under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he served first as minister of infrastructure, and then as minister of natural resources. He lost his seat in 2019.
He acknowledged the economic challenges ahead as he addressed his supporters on Monday evening.
“If you’re a young person anxious for your future, if you’re worried about the health and well being of your loved ones, I see you and I hear you,” he said.
“I’m honored with the privilege to lead us toward a new chapter with better days ahead.”
He said he would strengthen public services, work toward Indigenous reconciliation, tackle racism, build climate resilience and respond to the overdose crisis.
Mr. Sohi was born in India and moved to Edmonton with his family when he was 18. He later worked as a bus driver for Edmonton’s public transit service.
He defeated Mike Nickel, a conservative city councillor who placed second after campaigning on cutting property taxes, ending photo radar and hiring more police officers.
Mr. Sohi’s platform includes an innovation fund and a new office to help small- and medium-sized businesses navigate permitting, licensing and other regulatory requirements. He wants to increase affordable housing and mental-health resources. And he said he would seek an urban national park designation for Edmonton’s river valley.
He replaces Mr. Iveson, who was first elected mayor in 2013 after serving as a councillor for two terms. Mr. Iveson championed policies aimed at ending homelessness and addressing drug addiction. He also supported reducing the police budget to redirect money to front-line services, in order to prevent vulnerable people from ending up in the criminal justice system.
Mr. Iveson spent years as chair of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Big City Mayors’ Caucus.
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