Throughout the mayoral campaign, there has been little doubt as to the outcome. Since 2006, when Larry O’Brien took over the mayor’s seat, controversy has reigned. For example, there were O’Brien’s promise of “zero means zero” when it came to tax increases, the bus strike, and the arguments and lawsuits about public transit which have cost the city millions. O’Brien also had to face criminal charges for influence peddling, and although he was acquitted and completely exonerated, mud tends to stick.
Equally damaging, many voters considered the O’Brien campaign weak, especially in comparison to Watson’s. Much of O’Brien’s campaign, according to his campaign website (now off line) was a defense against Jim Watson, and offered little new in policy other than a ring road around the city and another bridge to Quebec.
Although O’Brien can rightly take credit for upgrading the city’s sewage treatment, thus helping to clean up the Ottawa River, and for the Green Bin program to divert waste from the landfill sites, he had very little policy for making Ottawa more self-sustaining. While Jim Watson has promised to take full advantage of the province’s Green Energy Act by installing large-scale solar electric installations, O’Brien attacked this proposal, promising only to burn garbage for energy production.
Given the results, Ottawa voters want a much more proactive path to sustainability. Watson has a relatively complete plan. According to a recent media release, preparing for the future will be a foundation for City Hall. Prominent in his plans is the creation of a “Green Team” within the city’s planning department. This team would have the knowledge and motivation to push through the red tape involved with planning applications for “green buildings”. According to Watson, “Sustainable growth begins with innovation.”
Following an example from Toronto, Watson would like to see more green roofs, or solar panels on large roofs, to remove many of the “asphalt eyesores” from around the city. “City Hall needs to be a champion, not a barrier.”
City Hall will also work closely with developers to construct new, highly energy efficient LEED buildings.
Sustainable public transit also features highly on Watson’s to-do list.
Green energy production is something Ottawa can take advantage of, both in terms of providing for the future and generating significant energy for the city. The Green Energy Act will bring about “a fundamental transition in our power system to make us less dependent on fossil fuels. It is a big opportunity for home owners, small businesses and our municipality to create new revenue opportunities.”
Watson also pledges $14m to address the city’s homelessness problem.
“Shoring up our failing housing stock and creating options for people forced out of their homes and onto the street has got to be a renewed priority for Ottawa. We have had plenty of planning and discussion and exploration of just how the problem is growing. Now we need to act.
In 2008, over 7,000 people, including over 1,000 children used emergency shelter beds in Ottawa. The problems have worsened since and it is getting virtually no attention at City Hall.
Good news is in the offing for city taxpayers also. According to his campaign website, Watson will, among other things:
- Freeze salaries of Mayor and Council for four years
- Cut Mayor’s office budget by 10%
- Freeze salaries for senior managers for two years
- Cut the budget of the city for conventions, travel and hospitality by at least 20%
- Implement twice annual budget variance updates that compare projected to actual spending levels for departments and major projects
- Cut overtime and absenteeism by 10% through stronger management and leadership
- Cut reliance on outside consultants by at least 10%
- Require any new spending initiative to be accompanied by an equivalent and realistic cost reduction
- Initiate a comprehensive capital budget review to ensure clear and prudent financial planning, post economic stimulus funding
- Host a spending control town hall meeting prior to the passage of the 2011 budget.