Exit interview: Jim Watson looks back at Kitchissippi ward accomplishments as mayor

By Charlie Senack

It’s the end of an era for Ottawa’s longest-serving mayor who is leaving public office after a lifetime in politics.

This was the first election in a long time where Jim Watson got to sit on the couch and watch results come in from home. After leading city hall for 12 years, the outgoing mayor decided it was time for someone else to come in with fresh blood and new ideas.

Watson’s experience in politics dates back to the 1990s, when he served as a city councillor from 1991 to 1997. That same year, he was elected mayor of Ottawa for the first time. 

He left that position in 2000 and became the member of provincial parliament for Ottawa-West Nepean in 2003. Watson served in that capacity for seven years and worked as a provincial cabinet minister in various portfolios. 

Watson left Queen’s Park and returned to council chambers in 2010 when he ran and won the mayor’s race again. Now he’s calling it quits after three consecutive terms. 

Kitchissippi Times sat down with outgoing Mayor Jim Watson to talk about his legacy and accomplishments over the last 12 years.

Some answers have been edited for style and clarity.

A man wearing a white shirt and read tie poses for a photograph at his desk. Many papers are on the table.
Outgoing Mayor Jim Watson sits at his desk during his final weeks in office. Photo by Charlie Senack

Q: Here we are sitting in your office, a place where you have spent a lot of time over the past 12 years. How does it feel to be leaving?

Watson: It’s bittersweet. On the one hand I’m looking forward to a less stressful job. I thought it was time to move forward and allow new people and new blood to take office.

It’s a little bit sad though, because you stay in one job for a long period of time and you develop a lot of good relationships with your staff, the city staff, community associations and community leaders. I’ll miss the aspect of getting out in the community.

Q: During your three terms as Mayor, many projects have been greenlighted in the city: Lansdowne Park, LRT, the new central library, to name just a few. What do you want your legacy to be?

Watson: I’ll leave that up to journalists, historians and pundits to write about my legacy but a lot of projects were stuck in the mud here for decades. We always wanted an Innovation Centre but nothing happened on that front. We needed an Ottawa Art Gallery benefiting a G7 capital and nothing happened on that front. These were all city projects that were on someone’s desk and they never seemed to move very far. I’m proud of the respective councils who voted to invest in Lansdowne Park, who voted to invest in LRT, electric buses, support for our veterans and those looking for affordable housing.

Q: What about in Kitchissippi ward in general? What are you most proud of accomplishing there?

Watson: In Kitchissippi we have invested a lot in infrastructure — whether it’s upgrades to the Hintonburg Community Centre or Laroche Park upgrades with the new Keith Brown Field House that’s coming along really well. Look at the Jackie Holzman Bridge for instance, that links the two sides of Highway 417. That’s a lot of investment over a relatively short period of time.

Q: Once fully operational, light rail transit will benefit Kitchissippi ward with Phases 1 and 2 running through the community. What will this mean for the neighbourhood?

Watson: I don’t think people realize how extensive Phase 2 is. It will go further east, west, and south. It’s going to be a big game changer because there will be stations that are a lot closer for people to come and use the trains. You won’t see the kind of congestion and overcrowding used to occur at Tunney’s Pasture because that was the end of the station in the west end. Phase 2 will spread all of that pedestrian traffic out over a longer period of time.

Q: Do you have any regrets or anything you wish you accomplished as mayor?

Watson: I wish we had done something more; I think loneliness for senior citizens is a really big concern. During the pandemic, Meals on Wheels would often be the only contact seniors would have. I see far too many people sitting by themselves at Carlingwood Mall having a muffin and a tea at Tim Hortons. That’s sad.

Q: Now that your time as mayor is almost up, do you have any ideas what is next? Is another job maybe in your future?

Watson: I’ve made a conscious decision not to deal with my future until my term ends. From that I’ll take a couple weeks off – I’d like to travel a bit, and then do a bit more charity and volunteer work. If something comes my way that’s a good fit then I’ll certainly look at that, but I’m not looking for a 100 hour a week job, that’s for sure. I had that for 25 years. I still have a lot of energy and I’m still relatively young.

A photo of the mayor, former mayor and current councillors outside of Jackie Holzman Bridge in Ottawa.
Mayor Jim Watson and former Mayor Jackie Holzman are joined by Councillors (from left to right) Kavanagh, McKenney, Tierney and Leiper at the opening of the Jackie Holzman Bridge (formerly the Harmer Avenue Bridge). Photo credit: City of Ottawa.

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