Feature Image Illustration: Kat Thornley
By Sam Hersh
In December 2021, after a long game of “will he or won’t he,” Jim Watson finally made the long-awaited announcement on his future as Mayor of Ottawa: he would not seek re-election in the fall of 2022.
Many people in Ottawa cannot remember a time when Watson wasn’t mayor. Ever-present at community events, Watson was (and is) a skilled and experienced retail politician, who made his presence known throughout the community.
With his towering, pervasive presence exiting the municipal political landscape, Ottawa could become a very different place. So many of us are banking on it. Residents across the City of Ottawa feel that under his leadership, our city lagged behind on several important issues — including the housing crisis, the climate crisis, our public transit system, and police misconduct, to name a few.
It is under Watson that we saw one of the largest mass evictions in Canadian history at Heron Gate; under Watson that we saw our public transit system become the ridicule of the nation; under Watson that the well-being of so many residents in our city decline year after year.
Even with his tight grip on city council, these failures are not attributable to Mayor Watson alone — but he consistently has not done what is in his power to see different outcomes. When calls come to invest more in climate action, he refuses and invests more in expanding roads instead. When residents call for re-allocating police spending, he insists on giving them more money and diminishes the voices calling for justice — even after repeated examples of police misconduct (e.g. the deaths of Abdirahman Abdi, Anthony Aust, and Greg Ritchie at the hand of police) and a wealth of research demonstrating the efficacy of such a policy shift.
There have been several instances when council, under Watson’s lead, voted against what seemed to be the clear majority opinion of Ottawans: the Chateau Laurier addition, the Porsche dealership tax break, and the urban boundary expansion, to name just a few.
If any councillor dares oppose Mayor Watson on these issues, they are shut out and not given access to core city committees, or the ability to meaningfully advocate for their ward or their issues.
Under Mayor Watson, we have been living in a city that has been reluctant to dream big or to take the courageous steps that other cities across the world have already taken. We have been stymied by a vision (or a lack thereof) that sees all of us simply as “taxpayers” and not as the multidimensional members of larger communities that we are.
It is this kind of narrow vision that leads people to brand our city as “boring”, the one that “fun forgot.” It doesn’t have to be this way. When we strive for greater social justice and material improvements, we can have a city that is not only focused on core values of greater equity and inclusion, but that has fun too.
Watson’s exit creates an opening for change and an opportunity for many across Ottawa who want to build a better, more imaginative city and see a bold step forward towards tackling inequalities in our neighbourhoods and communities.
In fact, that is exactly why we founded Horizon Ottawa in May of 2020. We came together because we wanted to fight for a city free of developer influence and to give residents a vehicle to push for change in a meaningful and powerful way.
For our part, we are working to build the largest grassroots electoral movement this city has ever seen, something we hope will pay off in 2022. Help us elect a council that will finally build the city we all deserve.