Jim Watson runs for mayor, steps down from cabinet
Published Tuesday, January 12, 2010 6:04PM EST
The newest person to declare his intentions to run for Ottawa mayor says he's not comfortable with the costs of the current transit plan, and he won't tear up an agreement to redevelop Lansdowne Park.
Jim Watson, 48, stepped into the mayor's race Tuesday, resigning from his cabinet post with the provincial government.
Prior to amalgamation, Watson served as Ottawa mayor from 1997-2000, winning 83 per cent of the vote. He also sat on city council from 1991-1997.
He has been representing Ottawa West-Nepean at the provincial legislature since 2003.
City needs 'direction'
Watson told CTV Ottawa on Tuesday he had been tossing around the idea of running for mayor for the last couple of months, and he believes it's the best way for him to serve the people of Ottawa.
He said the past few years have been a frustrating time for Ottawa residents who aren't satisfied with the city's direction and performance on major issues.
He said those issues are continually stalled by "never-ending and divisive debates, lawsuits, and tax increases well beyond the rate of inflation."
"I think my frustration in some of the issues that the city has been dealing with is reflected out there amongst the public," said Watson. "They're concerned that we seem to be in this perpetual Groundhog Day feeling that you know a decision is made and then it's reversed and then it's brought back again."
Among those issues is Ottawa's transit plan. Transit became a major component of the last municipal election with Mayor Larry O'Brien promising to scrap a deal for a north-south light rail line if he was elected.
The rail line was cancelled in late 2007, resulting in a $217-million lawsuit against the city. Council approved a $36.7-million settlement in September 2009.
Although Watson said he would not lead the city into another lawsuit over a cancelled transit deal, he is not convinced the current plan before council is fiscally responsible.
Watson has long been critical of the expanding cost of the city's vision for transit, which has ballooned from $1.8 billion to $2.1 billion for the first phase of the project.
"My hope is when the new council meets, obviously they look at the affordability," he said.
"You've got to plan the system around the budget, not the other way around."
As for Lansdowne Park, Watson says he's happy the city has come up with a solution.
Watson -- who wanted to tear down the stadium at Lansdowne Park when he was mayor - says he will support Lansdowne Live, as long as the final plan meets the conditions set out by city council, as well as the needs of taxpayers.
"I'm certainly not going to tear up any agreement that was signed. Something has to be done with Lansdowne and I commend the four proponents for bringing forward an idea," he said.
While he wishes the city had held a design competition for the project, he says the redevelopment of the park needs to happen.
"I wasn't that happy with the process, but let's get on with it and make sure it's a big deal for taxpayers."
Watson will formally register as a candidate in the mayor's race once he steps down as MPP, which he will do before the provincial legislature reconvenes in February.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty will have to call a by-election in Watson's riding. He has up to six months from the date he receives Watson's resignation to call the by-election.
McGuinty also recently lost former deputy premier George Smitherman, who has since signed up to run for mayor of Toronto.
The premier is expected to shuffle his cabinet next week, replacing both ministers, as well as making other changes.
In the interim, Environment Minister John Gerretsen has been named the province's new minister of municipal affairs and housing.
Two others have already signed up to fight for the city's top job. Coun. Alex Cullen and Rob Gauthier -- who's made several failed bids to run for city positions in the past-- both announced their candidacies last week.
Meanwhile, Ottawa Mayor Larry O'Brien said Friday that he will wait until June before making a decision about seeking re-election. He said committing to a campaign now would be "ridiculously long".
Councillors Peter Hume and Diane Deans are also considered possible contenders. However, Hume suggested Tuesday that he may be reconsidering.
"For those who potentially aspire to being candidates, it makes the race much more complicated," he said.
The nomination period runs from Jan. 4 to Sept. 10. Residents will go to the polls Oct. 25 to elect one mayor, 23 city councillors, as well as school board trustees.