Ottawa·ELECTION 2018

Mayoral candidates squared off at Carleton residence association's debate

Mayoral contenders Clive Doucet and Jim Watson took swipes at each other's records on affordable housing in Ottawa during a Tuesday night debate held by Carleton University's residence association.

Watson and Doucet took swipes at each other over affordable housing

Clive Doucet (left) and Jim Watson (right) ran against each other for the mayorship in 2010, alongside Larry O'Brien. (CBC News)

Mayoral contenders Clive Doucet and Jim Watson took swipes at each other's records on affordable housing in Ottawa during a Tuesday night debate held by Carleton University's residence association.

"And just look at Mr. Watson's brochure," Doucet told the audience of 50 people. "He probably announced 364 subsidized units built in the last eight years of his office. We're a city of a million people — a million people. 364 units? That's zip."

Doucet, who represented Capital ward for 13 years, vowed to bring more affordable housing online if elected, although he has not yet laid out a plan for doing do.

But Watson said the councils he's headed for the past two years have added $16 million to the affordable housing budget.

"Under the last two terms of my administration, we have invested a record amount of money in affordable housing," Watson said. "And I just have to call out one of my colleagues Mr. Doucet, who talks a good line about housing, but as councillor for 13 years, there was not one single Ottawa Community Housing project in his ward."

There were so many candidates at the debate held by Carleton University's residence association that they only had time for four questions. (Joanne Chianello/CBC)

The question was specifically about what mayoral candidates would do to improve the affordability of housing for students. Few of the 10 candidates answered the question directly.

Joey Drouin — whose central campaign theme is to merge Ottawa and Gatineau — suggested instituting inclusionary zoning rules to include affordable units in new developments, brining in a licensing system for landlord licensing in campus areas "so students are not taken advantage of," and taxing short-term rental firms like Airbnb and putting the  money toward affordable housing.

Watson repeated his premise that an expanded  light-rail system will allow students to "move farther afield from campus" to find cheaper rents, as there is an O-Train stop at the Carleton campus.

Others spoke in vague terms about affordable housing in general, although several mentioned inclusionary zoning as a way to increase affordable housing.

Little time for debate

Ten of the 12 registered candidates for mayor participated in the debate. In addition to Watson, Doucet and Drouin, debate participants included Bruce McConville — who's an activist fighting the Salvation Army's plan for a 350-bed facility in Vanier, and whose campaign centres on housing — Hamid Alakozai, Ahmed Bouragba, Bernard Couchman, Craig MacAulay, Michael Pastien and Moises Schachler.

Given that each person was allotted a minute or so for opening and closing statements, and given a minute to respond to a question — plus another chance for a rebuttal — candidates only got through four questions in the 90-minute debate. And one of those questions was about freezing tuition fees, which is not in the purview of municipal governments.

The other two questions were about cannabis legalization, where most candidates agreed that the city should have a role in regulating where they go, and on how candidates would help create jobs in light of the city's successful bid for a new Amazon warehouse in the city's east end.

Watson spoke about Invest Ottawa, the city's economic development arm that he revamped since he was elected in 2010, while others — including Doucet and McConville — spoke about how affordable housing and a vibrant arts scene would attract employers.

Couchman, who insisted on standing during the entire debate while others sat on stools, became slightly agitated by the question.

"Did Amazon tell you to ask that question?" he asked the moderator. 

The municipal election is Oct. 22.