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Canada: Two big-city Mayors of Indian heritage

By  | 24 October 2021 at 19:08 | 812 views

Alberta made history at the municipal level earlier this month. Two non-Caucasian personalities won elections as mayors of Edmonton and Calgary, respectively. Both Amarjeet Sohi and Jyoti Gondek (Maclean’s magazine photo) have Indian ancestry.

It is a remarkable tale of two cities. The story is about how Calgary and Edmonton, the two biggest cities in this Prairie province, have each welcomed an immigrant into its highest municipal office. This is an acknowledgment of the credentials, hard work and community spirit of two non-white residents who were both born outside Canada. Calgary, to its credit, already had a non-white Muslim mayor in incumbent Naheed Nenshi.

In Edmonton, Alberta’s provincial capital, the breakthrough is a nod to the resilience of Amarjeet Sohi. He is an Indian émigré who started out as a taxi driver. Later, he worked as a transit bus driver, before winning a seat as city councilor in 2007. In 2015, Sohi won a seat as a Member of Parliament (MP) from Edmonton. He later became a federal minister in the inaugural cabinet of current prime minister Justin Trudeau. Sohi credits resources like Edmonton Public Library (EPL) and the English as a Second Language (ESL) program for helping him improve his English. Born in India in 1964, Sohi’s first name, Amarjeet, means ‘victorious’ in Hindi.

The Calgary part of this tale is about Jyoti Gondek. She was born in London, England in 1969. The mayor-elect first lived in Manitoba, another Canadian province, before moving to Alberta. Gondek won a seat as city councillor in Calgary in October 2017. Her name Jyoti means “flame,” “light,” or “lamp,” in Hindi. It is interesting that Calgary’s National Hockey League (NHL) team is nicknamed “Flames.”

Another common thread in the backgrounds of the two new mayors is that each volunteered in the community. As a prelude to his political career, Sohi volunteered in areas like Mill Woods in south Edmonton. For her part, Gondek volunteered on the boards of Northern Hills Community Association and Vivo for Healthier Generations.
Eight women won seats in Edmonton City Council this year. Calgary also welcomes a “new-look” city council, according to Calgary Herald. “Mayor-elect Gondek will be joined by Sonya Sharp, Jennifer Wyness, Jasmine Mian, and Kourtney Branagan,” reads the newspaper piece. “The election of five women marks a slight increase in representation from the previous council with three women.”

Naheed Nenshi, erstwhile mayor of Calgary, was born in Toronto, Ontario, in 1972. He was first elected mayor in 2010. Nenshi was re-elected twice, in 2013 and 2017. Nenshi’s parents emigrated to Canada from Tanzania.

The municipal elections took place on Monday 18 October 2021, in both cities. Sohi succeeds Don Iveson as Mayor of Edmonton, while Nenshi will hand the reins of the City of Calgary over to Gondek.