One night soon after the fall federal election, Mohinder Banga (Hydrocarbon Engineering Technology ’87) got a life-changing phone call. Edmonton city councillor Amarjeet Sohi had been elected to the federal riding of Edmonton-Millwoods and a by-election was set for the now-vacant seat for Ward 12, where Banga has lived for more than 35 years.
The call was from his nephew, wanting to convince his uncle to run. With his 24 years as an Edmonton Police Service detective and community involvement as a Drug Abuse Resistance Education instructor and soccer coach, Banga would be a great fit, his nephew said.
Nearly asleep when the call came, the 60-year-old Banga initially dismissed the idea. But the more he thought about it, the tougher it was to get back to sleep.
After deciding that city council could benefit from his experience and education, Banga handily won the biggest by-election in Edmonton’s history – featuring 29 candidates – with 2,359 votes, almost double that of the runner-up. We spoke with Banga a few weeks after he was sworn in on Feb. 26 to ask his thoughts on where that late-night call has led him.
Techlife: What does becoming an Edmonton city councillor mean to you?
Mohinder Banga: The reason I was interested in [the job] was to make sure I don’t just help people on an individual, short-term basis. … I was a police officer for 24 years before this. Sure you make a difference in people’s lives [but it] is limited to their lifespan or the day-to-day. Here you are making decisions that need to stand the test of time.
We don’t just live for ourselves – we live for the whole community.
Why does it interest you to have that kind of impact?
Even the way I was brought up in my culture back home in India, it was never about you. It’s us. I hear kids saying these are my toys, this is my house. We always said these are our toys, our house. We don’t just live for ourselves – we live for the whole community.
When you saw the final numbers – a considerable lead – were you surprised?
I wasn’t surprised. Actually, I believe my numbers would be much greater [if more] people came out to vote.
What do you believe made your campaign so successful?
I believe it was successful because I had very positive involvement in the community on all fronts. People from that involvement came out to support me. In the last few days of my campaign I had trouble organizing all my volunteers for door knocking. We had 35 to 40 people going out every night.
How’s the job been so far?
I enjoy each and every moment of it. … However, joining the marathon in the middle is always a little hard.
Does the downturn concern you?
It does. I don’t want to see anyone out of a job. But the downturn makes us think about the possible alternatives and find inefficiencies in our system and work toward our betterment.
Anything you’d like to see us work on as a city?
We’ve had some projects that have been over budget and later than they should have been. We need to make sure our citizens know why and how we could improve on that in the future.
I understand that one of your priorities is community safety.
I want to make sure there are enough police officers. The solution is not just to put more new police officers onto the street but to challenge the Edmonton Police Service and Commission to find efficiencies in the system. I know that no system is perfect. My job as a councillor is not to interfere with operations. We only allocate the funds. The Commission and Service will be the ones to identify [efficiencies] where they can.
Any concerns about your new job?
There’s not enough time for my grandkids that I used to have. But I didn’t do this for myself.