Author Topic: Year-end interview: Mayor Watson will pursue voting power at NCC in 2017  (Read 461 times)

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Year-end interview: Mayor Watson will pursue voting power at NCC in 2017

Jim Watson convinced the feds to create a seat for the Ottawa mayor at the National Capital Commission board in 2016. In 2017, he’ll go after the power to vote. “From an accountability point of view, it makes sense,” Watson said in a year-end interview with the Citizen. “Otherwise, every time there’s a decision that’s not particularly popular or […]

Jim Watson convinced the feds to create a seat for the Ottawa mayor at the National Capital Commission board in 2016.


In 2017, he’ll go after the power to vote.


“From an accountability point of view, it makes sense,” Watson said in a year-end interview with the Citizen. “Otherwise, every time there’s a decision that’s not particularly popular or not a good one I can say I didn’t vote for that. That’s not fair.”


Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, who oversees the NCC, put the mayors of Ottawa and Gatineau on the NCC board as non-voting members last April.


Watson said the two mayors should be voting members, just as they are on the National Arts Centre board. The benefits of having municipal perspectives at board meetings have already been illustrated, he said.


“The fact that I’m going to the meetings is important and I have a voice at the meetings,” Watson said. “I’ll probably look at this in the next six or eight months and meet with the minister and offer my perspective on how it has worked and where it can be improved, but so far so good.”


One NCC meeting that Watson wished he didn’t miss (he was sick) was the one in November, where the board confirmed Tunney’s Pasture as the agency’s preferred site for a relocated Civic hospital.


Days later, he ended up brokering an agreement between The Ottawa Hospital, MPs and MPPs to support the Sir John Carling site at the east of the Central Experimental Farm as the best location for the hospital. Joly also supports the site.


Watson said there will be an opportunity at the NCC to review what worked and what didn’t in the hospital site-selection process. His biggest criticism is that it appeared The Ottawa Hospital was left out of the process to select a preferred federal site and didn’t find out about the site until shortly before the NCC’s public announcement.


“If they were going down the path that Tunney’s was going to be the recommended choice, and they knew that, I assume, for a couple of weeks before, I would’ve hoped that the hospital would have been told of that and asked for their reaction,” Watson said. “The reaction (after the announcement) was very negative and I think we could have avoided a lot of the turmoil that was created over the span of 10 or 11 days.”


Watson said he wants the city to be ready with necessary land-use approvals because he doesn’t want city hall to be the reason for any delays opening a new hospital.


Looking ahead to 2017, Watson said he’s excited for the Canada 150th celebrations and the end of two large municipal redevelopments.


The innovation centre at Bayview Yards and Arts Court near the Rideau Centre are scheduled to open in 2017. Tenants have already been moving into the innovation centre.


Reflecting back on 2016, Watson noted a couple of blemishes.


At the time of the interview, Ottawa had recorded its 20th homicide after a 17-year-old boy was shot in Hintonburg. Since then, the city has tied a record set in the mid 1990s, reaching 24 homicides for the year.


“We can’t have a knee-jerk reaction to what could, in fact, be a blip in our normal murders, if you can call it that, because for a wide variety of reasons the drug industry is moving in from different parts of the country and that’s causing turf wars between certain gangs,” Watson said.


There has also been a record-number of shootings in Ottawa in 2016.


Watson said an annual hiring plan by the Ottawa Police Service through 2018 will put more officers on the street.


Ottawa is still considered one of the safest cities in Canada. The city’s crime-severity index for 2015 was among the lowest in the country.


“If you’ve had three killings on Jasmine Crescent, statistics don’t amount to a hill of beans, so you feel unsafe,” Watson said. “It’s our job as a community to do what we can, from a police point of a view and a crime prevention point of view.”


Watson also touched on another sad story of 2016: the death of Abdirahman Abdi.


The Special Investigations Unit is looking into the conduct of police because Abdi died after an altercation with officers in July.


“The death of Mr. Abdi was a very emotional time for the Somalian-Canadian community and for the Ottawa Police Service,” Watson said. “I’m not going to jump to conclusions (about) what happened because I wasn’t there, I don’t know, and I have to wait for the results (of the investigation) to come in to offer any kind of substantive comment.”


Watson found some comfort and joy in other places in 2016.


•


LRT, despite Rideau Street caving, chugs along


“Notwithstanding the sinkhole, which obviously was a concern to everyone, the project continues to go along very smoothly,” Watson said.


The $2.1-billion first phase of the Confederation Line is expected to open in 2018.


The province committed to more than $1 billion for the $3-billion Stage 2 expansion, increasing the chance of a larger project to extend rail to the Ottawa International Airport and Trim Road. The city hopes to hear from the federal governmnment in next couple of months, Watson said.


•


Payoff nears for Canada 150th party planning


“Obviously the planning of 2017 has been all-consuming for us in 2016 as we count down to Dec. 31 and the yearlong celebration,” Watson said. “I’ve been very pleased with the calibre and the number of private sponsor groups that have come on board.”


The city also managed to lock down $9 million and $5 million from the province and feds, respectively, for the massive tourism program, he noted.


“I think people are going to be really proud of the program that has been put together from the end of this year to the end of next year,” Watson said.


•


Lansdowne Park gains popularity


“I think things like Lansdowne have proven to be a very positive success, not just because the Redblacks have won the Grey Cup, but it has become a real hub for community activities and a destination point,” Watson said.


Watson particularly likes that the Horticulture Building is being well-used. The city retained operations of the historic building after the renovations.


•


Cuts provide budget stability


The city shuffled its top-level management and then cut 177 positions in 2016.


“While it was difficult to lay off a number of people, we had really overgrown as an organization over the past decade and we needed to readjust the size of the workforce,” Watson said. “It allows us to do some things we’ve wanted to do for some time but never had the funds to do it.”


Watson pointed to the city’s plan to launch a low-income transit pass next April as one example.


jwilling@postmedia.com


twitter.com/JonathanWilling


Source: Year-end interview: Mayor Watson will pursue voting power at NCC in 2017