Ottawa's longest serving mayor will not be seeking a fourth term at City Hall.

Mayor Jim Watson announced Friday morning he will not run for re-election in the October 2022 municipal election.

"As I was awaiting the results of the 2018 election about three years ago, I made my decision – even before I knew the results – that if I was successful that night, it would be my last election as Mayor of Ottawa," said Watson in a message released on Twitter.

"The decision was both easy and tough. On the one hand, I loved almost every hour of every day and it was a true privilege and honour to serve as our city’s Mayor."

However, Watson, who turned 60 during this term of council, says if he was going to have one more career, he needed to move on from elected office.

"So, for the first time in many years, my name won’t be on a ballot, as I turn my attention to finishing some important city building projects, and then bid adieu to the Mayor’s office in November 2022, after nearly 15 years representing the residents of Ottawa," said Watson.

In August 2019, Watson announced he was gay, becoming Ottawa's first openly gay mayor.

He served as mayor of the old city of Ottawa from 1997 to 2000, and has served as mayor of the amalgamated city of Ottawa since Dec. 1, 2010. In March, Watson set the record for longest-serving mayor in the history of Ottawa.

In 2018, Watson was elected for a third term with 71 per cent of the vote.

"Serving as Mayor for the past 12 years has been the greatest honour of my life," said Watson.

"I am grateful to the residents who supported me through both good and challenging times – going back to my days as a city councillor for Capital Ward and as MPP and Minister for the riding of Ottawa West–Nepean. I have been blessed to have amazing and hardworking staff during my four mandates, and it has been a true honour to serve with many incredibly dedicated public servants."

In his statement, Watson listed a few projects, events and ideas that he is "grateful to have played a small part in", including:

  • Opening of the LRT system and negotiated funding for Stage 2
  • First electric buses for OC Transpo
  • Ottawa Art Gallery and Arts Court
  • Ottawa 2017 events, including La Machine, the Grey Cup, NHL 100 Classic, the JUNO Awards and other events
  • Opening of the Shaw Centre
  • Revitalization of Lansdowne Park
  • Affordable housing, which Watson called a "historic amount in affordable housing in all parts of the city"

The mayor acknowledges the rollout of Stage 1 of Ottawa's light rail transit system hasn't been smooth since its launch in September 2019.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, Kathleen Wyn

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson tour the Confederation Line light rail transit tunnel in downtown Ottawa on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. This section of tunnel so far runs from Lebreton Flats to Lion Street. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

"The start of this new transportation system was frustrating beyond belief and a massive letdown to its users," said Watson. "While we are now seeing an improvement in the reliability of the service, we must continue to hold our partners to account. I truly believe we have turned the corner with much better, reliable and consistent service for the people of Ottawa."

In November, the Ontario government called a public inquiry into Ottawa's LRT system.  There has been no word on when the public inquiry will begin.

COVID-19 has been the other major issue for Watson and council during the past two years. Watson paid tribute to the "Team Ottawa" approach to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"With great leaders like Dr. (Vera) Etches, Steve Kanellakos, Tony Di Monte, (Chief) Peter Sloly, Pierre Poirier, Donna Gray, and many others, saw Ottawa boast the best vaccination rate of any large city in Canada," said Watson.

The mayor's announcement not to seek re-election comes two days after council approved the 2022 city of Ottawa budget with a 3 per cent property tax hike.

"We were also able to keep my tax promise by capping taxes each and every year for 12 consecutive budgets. And we improved labour relations with our union members and saw no strikes or work stoppages during the past 12 years," said Watson.

Entering the final months of his term at Ottawa City Hall, Watson paid tribute to municipal employees and the councillors he's worked with.

"We are very blessed with a top-notch public service who have risen to the occasion so many times to help those in need – whether it’s the pandemic, the floods, tragic accidents, or a tornado," said Watson.

"I have served with over 100 different councillors during my time on Council, and while we didn’t always agree on everything, I respect their work and their role, and I thank them for their commitment to our city."

After 12 years in the mayor's chair, Watson says he looks forward to "watching from the sidelines" as the next term of council completes Stage 2 LRT, building a new Ottawa Hospital Civic Campus, opens the new central library and implements the Official Plan.

"I remind future mayors and councillors that our job is to plan and prepare for the next generation, and not just the next election," said Watson.

"As I travel around our vast and beautiful city, I truly believe that we are leaving our city and its communities in better shape. We’re far from perfect, but I wouldn’t want to live in any other city in Canada, the best country in the world."

Watson served as a Liberal MPP for the riding of Ottawa West-Nepean from 2003 to 2010. He was Minister of Health Promotion and Minister of Municipal Affairs during his time at Queen's Park.

Jim Watson pride

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, left, marches with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the Ottawa Capital Pride parade, Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

WHY ANNOUNCE NOW?

In an interview with CTV News at Six, Watson said he decided today was a good day to announce his plans to leave City Hall.

"I wanted to leave those people who may want to run for mayor enough time and enough runaway to put together a campaign," said Watson in an interview with CTV News Ottawa anchor Graham Richardson.

"Our city's about the equivalent of nine federal ridings, you need a lot of resources – human resources, financial resources - to put a campaign together."

Watson denied the problems with the LRT are behind his decision to leave office now.

"I decided three years ago and that was before the LRT system was up and running, so I couldn't have predicted what was going to happen. Obviously, very disappointed and let down, as are members of the public," said Watson about the issues plaguing the two-year-old system.

"I think we have turned the corner. I truly believe that with the new safety team in place and the new management taking over the maintenance facilities. We've seen about six weeks of good service."

Watson admits the LRT system and the COVID-19 pandemic have been "stressful."

WIN AGAIN?

Ottawa's longest serving mayor believes he could win in the 2022 election.

"I feel confident that I would be able to succeed," said Watson.

"I don't think anyone would out campaign me. We have great organization, my volunteers have stuck with me for 20 years. I firmly believe that what we've been able to accomplish at the city of Ottawa over the last 12 years and the previous city for three years has been very positive for our city."

Mayor Jim Watson

Mayor Jim Watson raises his glass towards reporters and passersby as he joins his sister Jayne Watson, right, and her husband Peter Froislie on a pub's outdoor patio in Ottawa as part of a photo opportunity to encourage residents to be kind and generous to service workers, on the first day of Ontario's first phase of re-opening amidst the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, on Friday, June 11, 2021. (Justin Tang/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

TRIBUTES TO WATSON

Politicians paid tribute to Watson and his years of service at Ottawa City Hall.

"Jim Watson and I have had a difference of opinions on issues over the years but I have always appreciated his community-mindedness and his ability to connect with people everywhere. Thank you for your service to the people of Ottawa," said Coun. Catherine McKenney.

Coun. Keith Egli said, "Jim thank you for your service to the city. I wish you well in whatever challenge you take on next."

Coun. Diane Deans noted she served with Watson since 1994.

"I have always admired his energy & ability to connect with people- he is everywhere- everyone knows him. Thank you Jim Watson for your public service. I hope that your next career is just as meaningful," said Deans on Twitter.

Coun. Mathieu Fleury said, "I join people from across Ottawa in recognizing Jim Watson decades of service to our community, including four terms as Mayor. Knowing Jim, I have no doubt that he will continue to work diligently on the pressing needs facing the city as long as he leads Council."

Ottawa Vanier MP and Treasury Board President Mona Fortier thanked Watson for his service and dedication to the community.

"Your leadership, hard work and determination will be missed – you’ve been a great partner and ally in working for the people of Ottawa," said Fortier.

MPP and former Ottawa councillor Stephen Blais said, "I've been fortunate to count Jim Watson first as a friend and mentor for twenty years and then as a colleague. And while he might be leaving Ottawa City Hall, I know he will remain committed to making #ottcity a better place."

CHEO President and CEO Alex Munter thanked Watson for, "your commitment to our community and your many years of dedicated public service. Good luck in your future endeavours."

Former Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said, "thank you for your tremendous service and mentorship. You are a rock and a rock star."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanked Watson for his years of service.

"Jim, you’ve been a strong voice for the people of Ottawa throughout your career. Thank you for your many years of service and all of your contributions. Looking forward to seeing what you do next," said Trudeau.