If a pipeline to tidewater is as important to Alberta as folks around here seem to think it is, Amarjeet Sohi has done far more to make one a reality than Premier Jason Kenney ever did.
In 2018 and 2019, as natural resources minister in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal cabinet, Sohi played a key role in the federal policy of pushing the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project forward despite strong opposition in many parts of the country and a rather iffy business case.
Construction of that controversial megaproject, now fully owned by the federal government, is underway with completion expected in December 2022.
While the former city bus driver, trade unionist, and respected progressive Edmonton city councillor was rolling up his sleeves in Ottawa, Alberta’s premier was engaged in mostly performative pipeline-boosting activities of dubious effectiveness.
These included damning the federal government for not proceeding fast enough on the file, organizing a political “inquiry” to investigate a conspiracy theory about environmental groups’ supposedly anti-Alberta agendas, setting up a “war room” that has been a constant embarrassment since the day it opened, and giving $1.3 billion to a private corporation to build a pipeline to the U.S. Gulf Coast — cash that disappeared into the ether the day Joseph Biden was sworn in as president of the United States.
Unlike Sohi’s effort, which produced tangible results, none of this has done anything to get a pipeline a centimetre closer to the ocean, which is what we used to call tidewater when I was a kid growing up in a seaport town.
So you’d think Sohi, at least, would get some credit for this effort.
Well, if you did, you mustn’t have been paying enough attention to the practice of federal politics in Alberta, where no matter what the Liberals do, they are assailed and defamed by the Conservative establishment. This usually works with voters, leaving Alberta with no voice at the federal table, enabling the cycle to continue.
That’s certainly what happened in the October 2019 federal election, when after one term in office Sohi’s job as MP for Edmonton Mill Woods was swept away on yet another blue tide of uninspiring Conservative time-servers who can’t seem to get anything done in or out of government.
The usual suspects in the Conservative establishment and its media cheerleaders who did what they could to undermine Sohi when he was working on the pipeline file, have never given him any credit for the work he did on this supposedly vital national task.
Meanwhile, Sohi, a talented politician with an inspiring backstory that includes serving time as a political prisoner in India, must have been frustrated. There have been repeated rumours he is planning a return to municipal politics, which have increased in intensity since Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson announced last fall he wouldn’t be seeking re-election in this October’s municipal election.
Yesterday afternoon, the buzz on social media was that Sohi will launch his campaign to be Edmonton’s mayor this morning at 10 o’clock.
In an email to supporters reported on Twitter by the Progress Report, Sohi said, “as you may have suspected, tomorrow, I will be officially announcing that I am running in the upcoming election in October. … I believe we can emerge from the COVID-19 crisis as a more unified, prosperous and more inclusive community.”
Promising policies that prioritize “equality, access, economic growth, and stronger communities,” Sohi said his website at Sohi.ca will go live today with details of his platform.
Sohi will be a strong candidate in Edmonton, a city with a long progressive tradition in politics. He should be capable of appealing to both Liberal and NDP voters, and perhaps some disillusioned red Tories too. He may even benefit from Premier Kenney’s current unpopularity and lack of success on almost all fronts.
It sure wouldn’t hurt Edmonton to have someone in a high-profile office who enjoys some credibility with Canada’s national government to speak up for our faltering regional economy. Heaven knows, our premier seems to have other things on his mind these days.
David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.
Image credit: David J. Climenhaga