Wed. May 25th, 2022

The city has had its share of leaders who ruled with an iron grip. But the mayor’s style has also won fans.

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Second in line.

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Jim Watson is not just the longest-serving mayor of Ottawa, but arguably the most powerful. He has an iron grip on the council, or at least the vast majority of its members. Which means things are going his way. What Watson wants, Watson gets.

No doubt the city has made significant progress under Watson. He has kept annual tax increases low – between two and three percent – for more than a decade. He has taken the LRT project, which he has inherited from predecessors, to new heights, where Stage 1 has been completed, though Confederation Line continues to go off track. Stage 2 is underway, and with the Liberals promising federal funding, the construction of Stage 3 for Barrhaven, Kanata and Stittsville is secured. It is unlikely that the provincial government will reject its share of the funds. With federal participation, a new central library is a trip. The Arts Court has been revitalized to the Ottawa Art Gallery and Lansdowne Park for what it’s worth has been revitalized.

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Importantly, when the city faced its biggest challenge, the COVID-19 pandemic, Watson rose. With a strong team including the now retired Director General of Emergency Services Anthony Di Monte and health worker Vera Etches, the city has handled it with awareness.

“We had no textbook to deal with a pandemic, but Jim Watson was a real captain in stormy waters. He showed great leadership,” said West Carleton-March Coun. Eli El-Chantiry. “… we had one of the highest percentage of those vaccinated in the province, if not in the country. “

Below the height of COVID, says Count.  Eli El-Chantiry, 'Jim Watson was a real captain in stormy waters.  He showed great leadership. '  (Photo by Wayne Cuddington / Postmedia)
Below the height of COVID, says Count. Eli El-Chantiry, ‘Jim Watson was a real captain in stormy waters. He showed great leadership. ‘ (Photo by Wayne Cuddington / Postmedia) Photo by Wayne Cuddington /jpg

But the problem with Watson, some colleagues argue, is that his penchant for control knows no bounds. The most recent example, they say, was his handling of Coun’s first request last month. Catherine McKenney for a judicial inquiry into the city’s light rail problems. Watson had the support of enough councilors to cancel a judicial inquiry if the issue came to a vote. But not only did Watson not want a judicial inquiry, he did not want to be seen voting against it, Coun says. Diane Deans. So he used his power to suppress the movement completely. And when Deans tried to stand up to him, he cut off her microphone – which he later apologized for. But he got what he wanted. When McKenney managed to resume the request last week, Watson and supporters voted it down 13-10.

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“I have never seen a mayoral control council the way Jim Watson does,” said former regional councilor Jacques Legendre, who was first elected councilor the same year as Watson in 1991. “Every mayor wants to have control of the city council, but with Watson.” I find it exaggerated. ”

Former city council member Diane Holmes, who was already a politician for three terms when Watson was first elected, says he was initially “pleasant and typical”, not the “mighty, controlling mayor” he has become. “It’s Jim’s town, it’s Jim’s budget, and you can not touch it, and in planning it’s what Jim wants. He controls everything.”

Former Ottawa councilor Diane Holmes says Watson is
Former Ottawa councilor Diane Holmes says Watson is “a conservative in liberal clothing.” jpg

Ottawa has had strong municipal leaders before: Think regional chairmen Andy Haydon and Peter Clark. Or Charlotte Whitton in the early 1950s and 60s; and from 1917 to 1920 Harold Fisher, who was mayor when the Spanish flu struck, and who founded the Civic Hospital. But no one had the suffocating control that Watson apparently exercises today. Even Toronto’s John Tory does not have that kind of power.

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How did he do it on the 30th anniversary of Watson’s first election?

Deans, who served with Watson when he was mayor of Ottawa before the merger in 1997, recalls a conversation after he won the mayoral post in 2010. “I said to him at one point, ‘You can not share and rule’ because I had seen it (with him) in Ottawa before the merger, “she says.” I said ‘how will it be different?’ Deans says that Watson told her that at that time he had worked in the provincial cabinet, learned a lot and wanted to bring this experience and maturity to the city. But Deans says it did not happen. “He puts people in key positions who would support him, and the people who are going to question or stand up to him, he shuts out.”

Watson denies that he is omnipotent. “The municipal council works by carrying votes. Every member of the city council must work on the principle that you need a majority of council members to vote or move the city forward,” he says, adding that he “believes in the proven approach of to refer to the will of the majority. on questions. “

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To understand how Watson has become so dominant, one must first understand the values ​​that drive his policies – and his ability to build coalitions around those values.

Watson started out as a progressive conservative and became a liberal in the late 1990s. But some colleagues say he has never given up on his conservative principles of tight fiscal policy, cost savings, low taxes and lower spending – and has ruled that way. “He’s a conservative in liberal clothing,” Holmes says.

Former Ottawa Mayor Charlotte Whitton.  The city has had its share of leaders with iron will.
Former Ottawa Mayor Charlotte Whitton. The city has had its share of leaders with iron will. SunMedia

Although he was once a city councilor (in Capital Ward), he usually keeps his distance from politicians in the city who, due to the greater social dislocation in their wards, tend to prefer more social spending over lower taxes. Instead, Watson seeks alliances with city and suburban city council members who share his tax values. And he rewards them with high-profile appointments. That is why the deputy mayors are rural or suburban councilors. And that’s why eight of the nine chairmen of the city’s standing committee are also rural or suburban. Ditto with nine out of 10 members of the Central Political Committee for Finance and Economic Development. Watson cultivates these politicians, and they support him in return. He does not want anyone to smoke the boat, and he usually has 14 out of 24 council votes to count on a given topic.

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“Watson has a great capacity to identify and build coalitions that sustain him. He reaches out to like-minded people who share the value of running a tight ship,” said former councilor Alex Cullen. “He supports his supporters, and they support he does not tolerate criticism or disagreement. “

Former Regional Councilor Legendre says it’s disturbing to see councilors give up their independence and keep bowing to Watson. But El-Chantiry says those who support Watson do so because they see value in it.

“My residents, my area, the suburban residents and the city council members are tax conservative. “They are concerned about how we spend our money, and they see Watson as a representative of their values,” said El-Chantiry. “For that reason (he) surrounds himself with committee chairmen who share the same views and values.”

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“I’ve never seen a mayoral control council the way Jim Watson does,” said former councilor Jacques Legendre. Garth Gullekson

However, this approach leaves the more urban, inner city council members out in the cold and muffles the voices of many of their residents. It’s a bear service for large parts of the city, but it does not seem to bother Watson, and other Ottawans do not seem to care.

Former Mayor Jacquelin Holzman sees nothing wrong with Watson’s approach. “It’s a big piece of advice, and if you want your agenda approved, you need people who support you. You need to have a majority for your ideas and he knows how to create a team. A ‘team’ does not have to be a negative word, ”she says.

“In Canada today, you want a strong mayor. When you are mayor, your strength lies in your ability to organize and afford to support where you are going. It’s leadership. Jim takes care of that,” adds Jim Durrell, another former mayor and chairman of Hydro Ottawa’s board, “You can not have a mayor who the council controls all over.”

Tuesday: Will he or will he not run in 2022?

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