Friday, December 30, 2011
As the year draws to a close we like to sit down with the mayor of the day and ask about the accomplishments - and the disappointments - of the past 12 months. Here, in no particular order, are Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson's thoughts on 2011.
On why he wasn't able to achieve all the elements of his "integrity package":
"I think it was just a matter, you can only juggle so many balls in the air at the same time. We wanted to get the fiscal items dealt with first, getting the budget under control, plus the light rail initiative needed some re-tooling to make sure the project stayed on time and on budget, plus we had a variety of other issues that we're dealing with."
On community frustration over the city's oft-oblique zoning rules:
"There is some legitimate confusion out in the community. And I think you have to balance the needs in the community with the greater public interest that we don't want urban sprawl to go unchecked, but we also want the infill to be compatible with the neighbourhood. And it is a tough balancing act. Every municipality is going through this, because we know urban sprawl is expensive, every time we go farther east or south or west it's going to cost more money, you have to have more roads, it adds to congestion. But when people buy a home in a neighbourhood they also want to know what the rules of the game are up front, and the developer wants to know if they're going to buy a piece of property, what's allowed. So I'm hoping the summit is actually going to bring some clarity to the rules and that we're going to be able to bring in an Official Plan that people understand up front what the rules of the game are so that we can't keep changing them back and forth, and frustrating and angering everyon
On community resistance to high-rise infill:
"I don't know if we'll ever find perfection, I don't think we will find perfection, for the simple reason that there are some people that will be against anything except a single family home. But we can't continue to boast about stopping urban sprawl if we're simply going to allow bungalows everywhere in the city. There's gonna have to be some highrises, and they're going to have to be strategically located in areas that have the least impact on our residential community, but have the most impact in terms of proximity to transit, or to major bus routes."
On the cost of the LRT project:
"I think all of the prroponents have heard me loudd and clear and certainly council that we want to keep the budget at 2.1, it's not 2.7, it's not 2.6, it's 2.1-billion. That's the money we have, and that's what we've budgeted for. So I'm not interested in bids coming in above 2.1 billion."
On the ongoing labour negotiations with the Amalgamated Transit Union:
"I feel very confident that we're going to be able to reach a fair settlement, certainly Gary Queale the president of the union has said publicly, as have I and councillor Deans, that no one wants a strike, and I honestly believe them in that and I think they believe our sentiment, it doesn't serve anyone's interest to have a strike because it hurts so many people, and we saw the devestation it took on small businesses, on students, on the vulnerable in our society."
On OC Transpo's $20-million "network optimization":
"If we didn't do this we would be nickel and diming the bus system for the next 10 years. It was tough medicine for some people, there's no question about that, some people have to walk a little bit farther, some people have to change routes, some routes are changing. The vast majority of people did not see a difference, I think it was 90, 93 per cent of the people either saw better service or exactly the same service."
On transparency at City Hall:
"With the expenses online, I suspect if you were to go back and compare year to year you'd see a significant decrease in the number of meals and hospitality people are engaged in, that's a good thing from a taxpayer's point of view. I think the whole debate we're having over the lobbyist registry is healthy, to make sure that the public have a clearer idea who's coming to meet us, who's trying to influence us."
On consultant Brian Guest's dual role at City Hall and Plasco:
"So I see no, nothing wrong with an individual, a private entrepreneur who wants to work on city business of working on more than one file, and if there's any perception of conflict that there is a division, and I have confidence that the city manager has assured that that's not taking place, that there's any conflict at all, with that or with any other consultant that we use."
On the new tone around the council table:
"I can tell you, some people scoff at this but a day doesn't go by when I don't have someone stopping me on the street and saying, 'Thank you for bringing some calm back to City Hall.' You can't put a price tag on that. And it's not a question of being anti-democratic, it's a question of being professional and running the organization in a professional fashion."
But what about the complaint that things may be running a bit too efficiently?:
"The only people that keep talking about those challenges are reporters, and then they quote back themselves to say, 'Well we hear there are concerns.' I've not met a single person, and I meet a lot of people in the course of the day, who are telling me 'We want longer meetings at City Hall. Go back to the good old days where there was squabbling and yelling and screaming and procedural points of order. No other organization could operate and sustain that kind of ...skitishness."
On the deal with Plasco, and the viability of the company's technology:
"Well I'm optimistic it's going to work, but if it does not work then that becomes Mr. Bryden's problem and his investors', because the city does not have money in this project."
On looming federal public service cuts:
"Often I call it the elephant in the room, so when the finance minister federally talks about reducing the deficit we have to keep a close eye on what that means in terms of job losses in the national capital region, because you live by the sword you die by the sword, and we have to ensure we are starting now the process of expanding economic development opportunities so that if those people tat do lose their jobs, there's at least a good chance that they will find something else within another sector of the Ottawa economy."