Mayor Jim Watson got a taste for politics when he won the position of floor rep during his first year at Carleton University. His goal was to become a reporter and journalist upon graduating with a B.A. in Mass Communications from the Faculty of Public Affairs but the lure of politics was strong. In 1997 he became the youngest elected Mayor in the City’s history at the age of thirty-six. Three years later he resigned his position to become President and CEO of the Canadian Tourism Commission. He returned to his media career for a few years and re-entered the political arena as Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing in 2007. In 2010, Mayor Watson was again elected and is the city’s longest serving Mayor.
Everything changed in March of 2020 when the pandemic hit. He worried about those who didn’t have the financial capacity to weather an economic downturn and their vulnerability in terms of job security. Shopping local has helped impacted businesses and he’s working with the Federal government and other employers for the quick and safe return of their employees in order to reinvigorate the downtown core and those businesses that rely on a healthy downtown populace.
In terms of his legacy, he quotes Lord Baden-Powell who said ‘always leave the campsite in better shape than you found it’. He believes politicians at any level should strive to leave their city, province, or country in a much-improved state. Gratified by his mayoral accomplishments, he is hopeful that the city he loves will return to its pre-pandemic vitality.
How was Ottawa’s response to the pandemic? I am proud of the coordinated work of Team Ottawa featuring the front line and health care workers, nurses, doctors, personal support staff and paramedics. Everyone rallied to run an effective vaccination system. Covid is not over yet. People are frustrated and tired of government telling them what to do but we don’t have a choice. Covid is not going anywhere.
When do you expect tourism to return? It is our third largest industry and one of the hardest affected and it will require a concerted effort by Ottawa tourism, the city and various partners to announce that Ottawa is a safe and clean place to visit. We are already booking events for 2022. With not everyone vaccinated and still in the midst of a pandemic we need to be prudent in our re-opening of the economy to not send the business community back onto a roller coaster of shut down, open up, shut down.
What projects are underway for Ottawa? We are breaking ground on the new central library at LeBreton Flats. LRT’s Phase 2 was our largest infrastructure project and Phase 3 will run from Stittsville to Kanata and Barrhaven. The Civic Hospital rebuild will create a global state of the art hospital. Attracting new businesses and investing in infrastructure gets projects off the drawing board and into reality. After years of discussion, Lansdowne is totally re-vitalized and has become a community gathering spot featuring new greenspace, children’s play areas, skateboard park, apple orchard, a community garden and has brought in The Redblacks, and soccer, basketball and lacrosse teams.
In 2019 you publicly announced that you are gay; how did that feel? While in Charlottetown on holiday I wrote it out in long hand and arranged with the newspaper to publish it. It was touching to receive such positive feedback from all over the world. Parents wrote me wonderful letters about sharing my article with their son or daughter going through their own challenges identifying their sexual orientation. I had been agonizing back and forth and knew for a long time I was gay and decided there is nothing to be ashamed of and no reason to hide it anymore.
Will you run again for Mayor? I don’t have a good answer yet and will make up my mind sometime in the fall after consulting with many people. If you make your decision too soon it looks like everything you do is political. If you make it too late it may be difficult to gather good people to put together a campaign the size of nine federal ridings. I love this city. Ottawa is home and my family is here. I don’t want to retire as I would be totally bored and would want to do more volunteer work which unfortunately, I have not had more time to devote to.