Mayor Watson reflects on political career and life after city hall

Outgoing Mayor Jim Watson says he hopes politicians of today make sure they underpromise and over-deliver. “I think they all have to realize nothing is free in life. You can’t promise free transit because you got to pay it somehow,” said Watson. Watson, who isn’t seeking re-election in the Oct. 24 municipal vote, talked to […]
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, who isn't seeking re-election in October, talked with the Algonquin Times about his exit from city hall.

Outgoing Mayor Jim Watson says he hopes politicians of today make sure they underpromise and over-deliver.

“I think they all have to realize nothing is free in life. You can’t promise free transit because you got to pay it somehow,” said Watson.

Watson, who isn’t seeking re-election in the Oct. 24 municipal vote, talked to the Algonquin Times about his exit from Ottawa City Hall.

Watson said he first ran for municipal politics in 1991 as a city councillor because he was displeased with a councillor’s decisions and the direction the city was going.

“They were investing a lot in almost monuments to themselves. You know, a new city hall, a new regional headquarters,” said Watson. “The tax rate was well above the rate of inflation. And there were a lot of people upset at the lack of action on Lansdowne Park, which was a big issue.”

He said that during the 1990s, Lansdowne Park was a big issue because the previous council — the one he got elected to — voted to tear down the Aberdeen Pavilion. So, instead of sitting on the sidelines and grumbling about it, he organized a campaign with some friends.

“I thought I had a realistic chance of winning because people seem to like the message that I brought to the election of living within our means and preserving our heritage,” said Watson.

In 1994 he was elected mayor in the pre-amalgamated city of Ottawa. Then, in 1997, he left municipal politics and worked as the Canadian Tourism Commission president. After that, he was elected as an MPP for two terms and served in provincial cabinet. He returned to municipal politics and was reelected in 2010, 2014 and 2018 as mayor in the amalgamated city of Ottawa.

LRT expansion

Watson said that with phase two of the LRT under construction, it will serve Algonquin College very well because it will connect the four post-secondary institutions with rail.

“Obviously, notwithstanding the challenges of the first year, the light rail system will serve as well in the future,” he said.

The City of Ottawa is counting on the provincial and federal governments support to split the entire cost of Phase 3 extensions that would serve Barrhaven, Kanata and Stittsville.

The Innovation Centre

“The centre is run by Invest Ottawa, one of my creations, and we have four post-secondary presidents. Claude Brulé, the president of Algonquin, sits on the board of directors,” Watson said.

Arts Court

“For years, we talked about building a proper art gallery and nothing ever happened, and I was fortunate enough to play a small role in bringing everything together, and it’s now open seven days a week behind the Rideau Centre,” Watson said.

A new Ottawa central library

“A new library is under construction and will kickstart the LeBreton Flats for redevelopment that will hopefully have an arena for the Senators,” Watson said.

New Civic Hospital

Another project that will have a massive impact on the city is the new Civic Hospital.

“How can a city help make that $2-billion dream become a reality to better serve our residents in western Quebec, eastern Ontario and the far north of Nunavut that use the Civic as our trauma unit for the region?” said Watson.

Watson said COVID-19 has affected every person in some way.

“Over 800 people died and that number continues to go up,” said Watson. “I think it was a good team model, or response. We got the best results for vaccination of adults and the best in Canada and the best in children’s vaccination in all of Ontario.”

Watson said test centres opened quickly, mobile units opened in economically challenged neighbourhoods and vaccination centres opened in collaboration with hospitals.

“Our Ottawa Public Health and branches did an excellent job,” he said. “I’m proud of the work that our paramedic service did and our social services where open respite centres for the homeless to go and self isolate.”

Watson also talked about the downtown truck convoy earlier this year.

“The truck protest was another challenging opportunity. But I think, you know, notwithstanding, it went on too long, in my opinion,” said Watson. “The one thing that people forget to realize is that not one person was seriously injured or killed during that protest. And that could have turned on a dime, the severity of the situation.”

Watson’s last day in office is Nov. 14 and he said he’d like to take a train ride across the country on VIA Rail.

“At some point, I’ll probably do that sometime in the fall after the term is over,” he said. “I’ll sleep in for a couple of weeks and then I want to do some more voluntary work and charity work. And we’ll see what comes to that.”

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