Got a chance to speak with our Mayor, Jim Watson, about Ottawa, real estate, and his favourite late night snack. Note... he was elected as the youngest Mayor in Ottawa's history with 82% of the popular vote, has contributed his entire municipal severance payment of $31,000 to Ottawa's Union Mission for Men (in August of 2000), and gives regular party advice for residents of Ottawa.
What got you into politics?
I had been around politics for a number of years at that point working for the Speaker of the House of Commons. The short answer is that I hadn’t paid much attention to municipal politics but after I bought a house and looked at my property tax bill, I realized I better figure out where this money is going. Once I started following things more closely I decided that I thought I could help run things a little better and so I put my name forward.
You were voted in as Ottawa’s youngest mayor. What was that like?
First and foremost, it was a honour for me that the residents of Ottawa would put their trust in me to lead our city. You are right that I was young but I had a fair bit of experience at that time and felt that I was ready for the job. I will say though that I’ve learned a lot between being elected in 1998 and serving as Mayor today in 2014.
What do you think the most important issues facing Ottawa?
Expanding the our light rail system, keeping taxes and programming costs at levels that are affordable to Ottawa’s residents, and making sure we do what we can to help our city’s most vulnerable.
What do you hope to accomplish for the city this coming year?
I hope to work collaboratively with the new Council so that we can move forward with LRT, cleaning up the Ottawa River, and keeping tax increases at or below 2% each year.
How was it to see Lansdowne Park re-open this year, a project you have been behind since the beginning?
It was great. After so many years of indecision at what should have long been a signature area of our city, it was amazing to finally see things move forward. Changing acres of asphalt and crumbling buildings into an urban park with lots of greenspace, retail and housing components, and a renovated stadium that brought with it our new CFL and North American Soccer League teams, was a major win for our city. Being there for that first sold-out REDBLACKS home opener and the opening of the Urban Park were both quite special to me and they are events I won’t soon forget.
Your answer to “How tall is too tall?” (when it comes condo buildings)
It’s too complex a question to answer with a definitive height. Every instance is, and should be looked at as, a different set of circumstances. What I have tried to do, along with the Planning Committee and my Council colleagues, is to bring a greater degree of certainty to the planning process. Certainty and predictability are what residents want from their neighbourhoods and I think we have made real progress towards ensuring that people can trust the plan that CDPs and the Official Plan have for their neighbourhood.
What is your favourite Ottawa secret that we might not know about, or should know about?
That per capita, our city gives the most to charity in Canada.
People say Ottawa is boring, what do you say to that?
People also say I’m boring! Personally, I think we’ve seen from the experience of other cities lately that a bit of boring is no bad thing from our politicians sometimes.
In terms of our City, I think that label is misplaced. We have an incredible array of festivals, multiple professional sports teams now, the Byward Market, and an incredibly diverse group of people who call Ottawa home. Go out and see new parts of the city and get involved in your community and you might soon realize that there’s a lot more going on in Ottawa than many naysayers would like you to believe.
You have knocked on a number of doors during your campaigns, a funny story that you can share?
I asked one woman if she would be willing to take a lawn sign to support me and she excitedly told me she had kept the last one for the past 4 years and was about to put it up! I guess that’s how my sign crew comes back with fewer signs than we started with at the beginning of the election.
You’re known for having some bets with other mayors, which was the best one?
Well I prefer the ones where the Sens win and I don’t have to do anything! But I did enjoy presenting New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg with an Ottawa Beavertail after the Senators lost to the Rangers a few years ago.
Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus?
Favourite late night Ottawa snack?
I like all of them! Hard to go wrong with a good poutine though.