Mayor plans to offer business community more of the same in re-election bid

Mark
Mark Brownlee
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It’s difficult to come up with a plank of Jim Watson’s 2010 campaign platform on which he has yet to follow through.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.

He morphed the city’s economic development agency, the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation – better known as OCRI – into Invest Ottawa. He funnelled more money into promoting tourism and booking major events. He built a council of the city’s business improvement areas.

So what’s lurking behind the curtain for his encore performance in the 2014 campaign?

Don’t expect too much that’s new.

“Most of the commitments I will make will be intertwined with what we’re doing right now,” the mayor says, sitting at a large table in his office on the second floor of City Hall as late January sunlight streams through the large windows behind him.

“I’m running on my record of what I said I would do and what I was able to do,” he adds.

Mr. Watson is set to become even more of a focal point of the city’s business community over the next nine months. With no major challengers in sight, he is seen by many as a virtual shoo-in to win another term as mayor in this year’s campaign.

The mayor says he intends to reveal his blueprint for economic development during the course of the campaign. However, he is already tempering expectations when it comes to any big new ideas.

“There undoubtedly will be some other new initiatives that I’ll bring forward as well, but you’re not going to see dozens of campaign promises,” he says.

Instead, it appears Mr. Watson will be selling more of the same: a steady hand on the tiller with few big (read: expensive) policies.

He points to his handling of the city’s $2.1-billion light-rail buildout as an example. Not only has he already started that project “on time and on budget,” he has also proposed spending another $2.5 billion on expanding rail to all corners of the city by 2023.

“I’m not going to go and campaign on something opposite of what I just supported,” he says in between the sips of water he says are helping to battle a cold.

His term hasn’t been without its hiccups, though.

Mr. Watson has admitted his handling of the decision to only allow a casino if it’s at the Rideau Carleton Raceway could have improved. That move has sparked an ongoing war of words with Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, who is steeling himself for a court battle with the city.

But mostly the mayor has brought a focus to City Hall that many business executives wouldn’t find out of place in a board meeting.

He regularly accosts his fellow members of council any time they take too long on items he deems frivolous to the city’s major priorities. He has kept his campaign promise to hold annual property tax increases to below 2.5 per cent.

It’s a marked departure from the last term of council, when day-long meetings regularly descended into debates over the minutiae of municipal policies and tax increases were always more than the mayor intended.

And yet there is some question as to whether that strategy will work another time around. Much of the big accomplishments Mr. Watson spent trumpeting during his January “State of the City” address – light-rail transit, the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park – actually started in the previous term.

Mr. Watson insists these initiatives are much better off than they would have been had he not been elected mayor. He’s also added a few of his own, such as the plan to spend millions of dollars on building an “innovation centre” at a newly redeveloped Bayview Yards.

The mayor has spent a good part of the previous term of council hatching the big ideas of his predecessors into the initiatives of today. The coming campaign will reveal what will be left for him to care for during the next four years.

Organizations: Ottawa Centre for Research, Ottawa Senators

Geographic location: Ottawa, Lansdowne Park

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  • Kevin
    February 07, 2014 - 08:53

    Sure, he has kept the meetings themselves short and sweet, focusing on priorities, but as has been pointed out in other news media outlets this has often been achieved through the use of one on one meetings that are not visible to the public, nor are minutes taken, so that the "vote" at the council meeting is simply to ratify what has been decided elsewhere. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; after all it means that the people involved can actually speak their mind and are more open to horsetrading... However, a bit more public debate wouldn't hurt either.