Jim Watson – our Savoir – Faire

Very clearly, one of main issues facing us in the entire City is the “reign” of Jim Watson as mayor. Please believe me, Mr. Watson is not what he pretends that he is in public. This man needs to be fleshed out for what he really is “a career politician”, more concerned with controlling his own legacy and re-elections than what is needed for the ordinary citizen.

History

Jim Watson was mayor of Ottawa prior to amalgamation from Jan.1998 until August 2000. Then, for reasons never properly explained, he left office before the end of the term to become president and CEO of the Canadian Tourism Commission. Due to Mr. Watson jumping ship early, Allan Higdon became interim mayor and served out the rest of the term.

McGuinty Inner-circle

All citizens of this city must recall that Jim Watson then became a cabinet minister with the Liberal McGuinty government. He served in various portfolios, including becoming Ontario’s first Minister of Health Promotion in 2005. From 2007 until 2010, he was the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. He was a member of the provincial government from Oct. 2003 until Jan.12,2010 when he resigned from cabinet in order to run for mayor of Ottawa. Why is this important to us? We must remember that Watson was in the inner-circle of the McGuinty government when so many bad decisions were made, including the terrible Green Energy Act. Therefore, he was part of the group responsible for making our hydro bills sky rocket. Furthermore, he was an important part of the government that very secretly “borrowed” $4 billion from the “Debt Retirement Charge” on our hydro bills in 2009. Thus making the “DRC” increase exponentially again. This fact was not disclosed until years later. [1](Christian Blizzard newspaper article – March 26/ 2014)

Budgets

Having learned some questionable financial practices as a member of the McGuinty Liberal government, Watson’s agenda when approaching a budget has clearly been “tax and spend”. To me, you don’t go into a budget consultation process with the idea to simply “hold the increase to 2 to 2.5% per year.” With the large tax base now available to the City of Ottawa, they do not have an income problem, they have a “spending problem.”

It must be emphasized that there is also an ugly little fact that Watson never mentions in his “budget process”. Since Jim Watson’s tenure as mayor, the city’s total debt has more than doubled to $1.65 billion. He is shoveling more and more on the debt to make it “appear” that his increase is only coming in at 2 to 2.5% per year. What smoke and mirrors! I can’t say this more succinctly – we are being conned with Watson’s shell game with these budgets.

Some City services are now starting to not be funded because approximately 5.4% of every tax dollar is already being used to pay the debt. To me, this is like paying for “air” for us as municipal taxpayers. I, for one, am worried about leaving a legacy of debt for our children and grandchilderen.

Council Control – Bobbleheads?

One of the major concerns I have had with the tenure of Jim Watson as mayor has been the way he has handled council.
Almost everything is handled behind closed doors. Therefore, Council meetings have now become a huge disappointment for anyone interested in true open “representative” democracy. Watson spends most of the first part of Council meetings conducting ceremonies handing out awards. Then, he blasts through the agenda, often in less than one hour, congratulates everyone and then adjourns. This has unfortunately even been the way “budget” consultations have preceded!

During his tenure, Watson has maintained a tight coalition of councilors who have voted with him on almost every issue. There have been very few instances when an issue is brought forward without Mr. Watson knowing what the outcome of the vote will be. In far too many instances to be classified as a “normal functioning council”, these votes on a countless number of issues have resulted in the entire council voting unanimously. Any challenges have only occurred on a couple of occasions.

Moreover, debate and open decision-making have not been allowed. Watson has often even “scolded” councillors for asking too many questions at Council meetings. In fact, at times the tight control has become so bad that this Council has often been termed “bobbleheads”.
(See [2] Jim Watson’s Iron Fist
[3] Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson often experiences little opposition.)

In my opinion, this is very unhealthy for a democracy. Council should be a debating chamber, not a “rubber stamp”, as it has far too often been during Watson’s tenure. For the last four years, generally speaking, we have had no idea regarding the input any representative on council has put into an issue. Municipal government, more than any other level of Canadian government, should be a forum to truly represent the citizens at the “grassroots” level. At the municipal level ideas and input should come from the “bottom up” not the top down. Watson has totally neglected this concept!

Rural Concerns

Since amalgamation, in our areas the problem of rampant City spending has become a serious concern. Despite the way the City tries to “sugar-coat” it, in about 8 – 10 years our taxes have increased by approximately 25%. Without question, in rural areas we are paying this, more than ever, with very little more in core services to show for it.

Moreover, Mr. Watson very clearly has little or no concept of the rural areas. I recall seeing him appear at the Greely Community Centre during the 2010 election campaign and literally “gushing” about his “new – found” appreciation of the size of the City. It was as if he had never been out of the City in his life!

During his tenure there have been many examples of Watson not being willing to represent the interests of the rural people of the City. One good example would be when the people of North Gower brought forward the concerns about windmills in their area. At that time, Mr. Watson merely said “it is out of our hands”, once again simply mirroring the wishes of his Ontario Liberal government “masters”. Of course, in Osgoode Ward, we will never forget how Mr. Watson handled the Rideau Carleton Raceway issue. Watson had absolutely no understanding of the bigger picture and what the raceway meant to our Ward.

Furthermore, Mr. Watson has entered again as a candidate as our mayor, saying he will announce his platform “over time”. However, if you look back at Jim Watson’s state – of – the – city speech from this January, it is quite revealing about what he really stands for. His speech included five themes that he is pursuing for the future. His themes concentrated on such areas as beautification, design, infrastructure, transportation and a reference to “the people’s City Hall”. The most telling aspect that can be drawn from this is the fact that there is no mention made of what he is going to do for our rural areas. These are our taxes being spent, what is he doing for us??
[4](Five themes in Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson’s state of the city speech) – Wed Jan 22, 2014.

A Tweeting Failure

Jim Watson and this Council have fumbled the ball on so many issues it is really quite puzzling why the media reports he has the level of support he does. Obviously, he is the “King of Schmooze” and constantly attempts to control the media, public, council and the message. However, in actual fact, he has failed to make tough decisions and show any real leadership. Indeed, if one examines the record of Jim Watson and this Council the following “litany of failures” is really quite compelling:

• More than doubled the city’s debt to more than $1.65 billion with little to show for it.
• Little effort made to stop tax increases
• Mismanaged contracts – arbitration loses and lawsuits
• Unaccountable city management and legal team
• Still extensively using consultants
• Sole – sourcing on contracts
• Council : – lack of serious debate, managees citizen presence at Council
• Back – room deals, walk on votes, controlled message
• Deflects agenda – ex.. spends $25,000 on “Order of Ottawa” ceremonies.
• Political flip – flops
• Hidden Orga – World audit
• Bi – weekly garbage collection, green bin project.
• Increased user fees at local facilities
• Imposed even more bylaws
• Questionable missions to China – Watson traveled to China twice this term
• Lansdown Park – completion / tenants not as promised. Cost overruns have occurred, ex.. – north roof repairs.
• Lost the grey cup game for 2014 due to delays
• Fumbled the ball on Double A baseball – kicked out tenant, allocated tax money, stadium now sits empty until next year … Maybe??
• Expensive refrigerated rinks and art galleries at City Hall [5](City hall art gallery costs six figures – Sun Feb. 1,2014)
• Delays and overruns on bridge construction projects – Airport Parkway, Hazeldean Bridge at Carp River, Standherd / Armstrong and so on.
• Disjointed urban planning: Intensification, high-rises, infill rules, urban sprawl.
• Water pollution – little done on Ottawa River Action Plan – nothing done on 6KM sewage tunnel required. (How often do we have E. coli at Ottawa beaches during summer months??)
• Crumbling infrastructure – increasing number of potholes on roads, water – main breaks, sinkholes
• Political control – ex.. Mr. Watson attempted to get himself on NCC board of directors to push through agenda on next phase of LRT
• Selected new auditor from inner-circle of city tax department.
• Often tweets journalists or citizens who disagree with him. [6](Watson’s Electoral Death Wish)

In summary, this list is by no means “exhaustive”, as there are numerous other examples of failures resulting from the mismanagement of this mayor and council. Mr. Watson’s approach has been to so tightly control the agenda and the message that he has completely lost the “grass roots” concept of who municipal government is supposed to represent. Obviously, Watson has spent far too much time micro-managing everything behind closed doors and very often did not respect the views of council and the constituents of this City. Furthermore, if Mr. Watson and this council did not have their eye on “legacy projects” and just concentrated on improving the “core services” important to ordinary citizens we would have been a lot better off!

Our Savoir Faire

Throughout his political career Jim Watson has definitely been very much an “opportunist” with “imagery” being so much a part of his persona. The old saying is that Jim would even attend “the opening of an envelope”.

So interested in using the media and being available for a possible “photo – op”, Jim Watson is said to have attended more than 1,200 events between 2011 and 2012. In fact, his ceremonial events calendar became so filled that the City was even forced to hire a scheduler for the deputy mayors at a cost of $75,000. [7](City of Ottawa looks to hire new scheduler) Clearly, his event scheduler is right over the top, Jim Watson is “everywhere”!

In politics it certainly helps if one has a bit of a sense of humour. This penchant Jim Watson has for being “everywhere”, led me to remember a cartoon I used to see in my childhood called “Savoir Faire”. Savoir Faire was about a rather sophisticated mouse who constantly steals food from the people with the catch – phrase “Savoir Faire is everywhere”! You can draw your own conclusions as to whether this in any way reminds you of our mayor Jim.

[8]


Solutions for Mayor

As we head into the 2014 election the media tells us that Jim Watson is the “front runner” for mayor. This constant bombardment with various media types saying he cannot be challenged is problematic in itself. Very clearly one of the problems, as it often is in politics, is merely “name – recognition”. Due to the fact that Mr. Watson has managed the media message so much that the “hard truths” regarding this term seem to bounce off because of his all-encompassing persona. Indeed, the media rarely looks at the “synergistic effect” and combines all the failures that this mayor and council have been responsible for.

Another factor obviously coming into play is the old problem of “incumbency”. Many are reluctant to step forward just because of this very factor. Also, Jim Watson spent almost $700,000 on the 2010 election and plans to spend over $500,000 on this one. He has even said he could not consider running if he did have this level of financing. Many very able people look at these “staggering” numbers and decide they could not possibly compete with this. Therefore, at this point, there are only two solutions.

(A) Mr. Mike Maguire has announced his intention to run for Mayor. He is a competent, intelligent individual who deserves our careful consideration. Despite the large number of people running in the mayoral race in 2010, Mr. Maguire was still able to generate many people’s vote, including mine.

Mike has impressed me for a number of reasons. Obviously, his greatest appeal for me is that he is “fiscally conservative”. He understands far more than Mr. Watson that the role of municipal government is for delivery of “core services” in a responsible, financially sound way for the taxpayer. Most importantly for us, his theme for projects would be “pay as you go”; he is not interested in legacy projects. Constantly increasing taxes and debt is definitely not a part of his platform.

One of the planks in Mr. Maguire’s platform from the last election that most impressed me was his outline of plans for rail for the Ottawa area. He still believes, as I do, that we should examine using existing rail rights – of – way to run trains. He has some good ideas of what our public transportation network could look like for Ottawa and the surrounding areas. * (please see my section on Public Transportation)

In addition, one of the huge factors that should come into play for us in selecting a mayor is the fact that Mr. Maguire comes from the rural area. I even recall, way back when he was a member of the Carleton Landowners Association and was involved in the Municipal Restructuring Survey. Coming from Kars, he clearly understands what concerns us all and what we need in rural areas. Moreover, it would be wonderful to finally have the first mayor from a rural area since amalgamation.

Although I do not agree with all aspects of how Mr. Maguire is going to achieve his financial plan, I think he is certainly worthy of our upmost consideration. I do get the impression that Mike Maguire is a good listener. He would be far more willing than Jim Watson to take into consideration opinions expressed to him by members of Council and his constituents.

Moreover, despite the fact that Mr. Maguire has recently convinced his brother Liam to now run in Osgoode Ward, I would never disparage against Mike and his run for Mayor. I care far too much about this area and the overall financial well-being of the City! Please give Mike Maguire your support when voting for our next Mayor.

(B) The only other option, if we find that the overall will of the population is to elect Jim Watson again, is to elect a Council that is “proactive”. We must elect a Council that is not afraid to stand up and truly represent the wishes of their constituents.

Voting in council should not be based on “Keeping in the mayors good books” like it has been this term. We do not need another set of “bobbleheads” only concerned about re-election and being on his chosen “slate of candidates”. Clearly, we also no longer need career politicians looking for “legacy projects”.

We must elect councillors that will challenge him and attempt to change Watson’s approach to the problems of the city and stop living in some sort of a “dream”. Therefore, we must elect councillors not afraid to disagree with Mr. Watson and “hold his feet to the fire”. Without a doubt, may I respectfully submit to you, if Mr. Watson happened to win, that I would be one of those Councillors!

References

[1](Christian Blizzard newspaper article – March 26/ 2014)

[2] Jim Watson’s Iron Fist

[3] Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson often experiences little opposition.

[4](Five themes in Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson’s state of the city speech) – Wed Jan 22, 2014.

[5](City hall art gallery costs six figures – Sun Feb. 1,2014)

[6](Watson’s Electoral Death Wish)

[7](City of Ottawa looks to hire new scheduler)

[8] Jim watson our savoir faire – Video