Mayoral candidate Jim Watson says a new plan to reform city council by creating a borough system to reduce the number of wards would help eliminate a disconnect that's still felt by many residents almost 10 years after amalgamation.

"Let's understand that the rural part of this community is a distinct part . . . so they have to be treated with some care and consideration, but I think there's also the rest of the city – Nepean, Kanata and Gloucester – that also feel a disconnect," Watson told CTV Ottawa on Monday.

Almost a decade ago, many residents from Vars to Kars, Cumberland to Carp and south to Burritts Rapids were unimpressed when they were forced to join the amalgamated City of Ottawa. All these years later, many still feel lost in the framework of the municipal government.

"There's a lot of issues that go on that don't really involve us, but we get drawn into it and it's really a prolonged thing," said Diane Smith, who runes the general store in Kars.

Watson says although he doesn't think amalgamation was a mistake; there have been a lot of "bumps along the way."

"We're not going to turn the page back and de-amalgamate, but let's make the decision making more reflective of local priorities," said Watson.

Four boroughs

Watson's new vision for council would introduce four boroughs, made up of a small group of community representatives who are dually elected and have full jurisdiction over matters that don't impact the rest of the city.

Watson says his vision would take minor issues off city council's agenda, and free up more time for councillors to work on the budget and other major issues, such as light rail and cleaning up the Ottawa River.

"Why should street signs, and park benches, and community centre hours be decided by people in downtown Ottawa, who in many instances, don't even know those communities? Let those local councillors . . . make those decisions for their communities in their communities," he said.

Reducing council

The system would also trim the number of city councillors from 23 to between 14 and 17, saving an estimated $2 million annually in councillor salaries and office budgets.

"If you look at any other major city in the rest of the country we have a lot more politicians per capita than Hamilton, Mississauga, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary," said Watson.

Number of councillors by city

  • Ottawa - 24
  • Montreal - 46
  • Toronto - 44
  • Hamilton - 16
  • Vancouver - 11

Although the City of Montreal has 46 members on council, they also have a borough system.

Under Watson's plan, reducing the number of councillors would only change the make-up of urban wards, since rural areas are currently protected by a court ruling, and can't be altered.

Although some councillors applaud the borough system, others don't like it, including incumbent Mayor Larry O'Brien.

"If you implement this reduction in the number of councillors, you're going to shift the balance of decision-making back to the core of the city," O'Brien told CTV Ottawa on Monday.

Voter reaction

However, voters have mixed opinions on Watson's proposal.

"I agree that it should be reduced. The more people you have expressing their opinion, the more confused the issue can be become," said one resident.

"I believe in stronger representation, so I don't agree with shrinking our local government," added another.

If elected, Watson says he could have boroughs in place in six months. However, electing a smaller council wouldn't happen until the next municipal election.

With a report from CTV Ottawa's John Hua