Ottawa·Analysis

Candidates can now register for the most important city election in a decade

With almost a third of council members already declaring they're leaving their current seat, this year's campaign is shaping up to be far more interesting — and set to have bigger ramifications — than the last couple of races.

Voters will elect a new mayor and at least 7 new councillors

Adding up the mayoral race and what councillors have said to this point, at least eight new members will sit around the council table after this fall's municipal election. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Ontario's provincial election may be just a month away, but for many local public officials and politician-wannabes looking down the road to this fall's municipal election, Monday is the day they've been waiting for.

Nominations open at 8:30 a.m. and even though the local election isn't until Oct. 24, the city's elections office on Cyrville Road is booked solid with appointments with would-be candidates eager to file their nomination papers and pay their fees.

Candidates aren't allowed to spend a single cent on their campaigns until they register, so the sooner they sign up, the sooner they can begin printing pamphlets, ordering lawn signs and holding fundraisers. 

Nominations don't close until Aug. 19, but for those trying to unseat incumbents or vying for a seat in an open race, getting an early start on campaigning is key.

Big ramifications for 2022 campaign

Indeed, with almost a third of council members already declaring they're leaving their current seat, this year's campaign is shaping up to be far more interesting — and set to have bigger ramifications — than the last couple of races.

Perhaps most importantly, this is the first year in more than a decade that Jim Watson won't be running for mayor. 

Back in 2010, he was the expected favourite when he ran against incumbent Larry O'Brien — who led a tumultuous four years which included his influence peddling trial, for which he was found not guilty.

In a field of 20 candidates, Watson picked up almost half the votes that year in a decisive victory.

Facing little real competition in the next two elections, Watson won both with landslides, chalking up more than 70 per cent of the votes in each of those races.

Now that Watson is stepping away from municipal politics, the leadership of this city is wide open.

Jim Watson has been the longest-serving mayor in Ottawa's history. His decision not to run a fourth time has ramifications for the future of our city. (Frédéric Pepin/Radio-Canada)

The change that a new mayor will bring can't be understated.

Watson was unique in recent history for his ability to win a majority of councillors to his side of virtually every argument. Detractors nicknamed his council supporters "The Watson Club," even though Watson's hold on council is thought be the envy of other politicians.

A new mayor may take the city in a new direction — lower transit fares? Higher taxes? Who knows! — and may not have as easy a time winning over their council colleagues. 

Already two council members have announced they intend to run for mayor, although neither Diane Deans nor Catherine McKenney are expected to register this week.

But a municipal blast from the past is: former regional chai, mayor and provincial Liberal cabinet minister Bob Chiarelli has an appointment Monday morning to file his nomination papers.

At least 7 new councillors

There will be some significant changes around the rest of the council table.

With Deans and McKenney running for mayor, constituents in their respective wards of Gloucester-Southgate and Somerset will be electing new representatives.

Jan Harder, who's represented Barrhaven since 1997, has said she won't be running again. As well, 2022 will see an additional ward added to represent the fast-growing Barrhaven community called Barrhaven East.

After 12 years on council, Keith Egli of Knoxdale-Merivale and Scott Moffatt of rural Ward 21 — it's getting a new name soon — have also said they're not putting their names on the 2022 ballot.

And Alta Vista ward, held for two terms by Jean Cloutier, will also be incumbent-free in this fall's election.

That's seven open wards so far, without counting those who haven't decided if they're running again and incumbents who might lose their seats.

Future of LRT, Lansdowne, emergencies

Different faces around the council table may have very different outcomes for this city.

Will a new council still be on board for the $5-billion LRT Stage 3 extension? What will the next set of local politicians do to revitalize the downtown post-pandemic? Or address the housing and climate emergencies that the current council has declared?

What about the $332-million proposal to upgrade Lansdowne Park announced last week?

A second pass at redeveloping Lansdowne is one of the decisions a new council will have to make in 2023. The second phase of the Lansdowne Park redevelopment would include 1,200 new residential units, 10 per cent of which would be affordable, according to OSEG. (OSEG)

This month, the current council will decide whether to approve spending $8 million to work on, among other things, a formal funding strategy to replace the stadium's north-side stands and arena.

But the go or no-go decision will be made next year by the group of people we elect this October. They might go ahead with the plan, scrap it entirely or change it significantly.

Who we elect to city hall matters, as our recent experience with the Freedom Convoy has reminded us. There hasn't been a more important municipal election in years. And it starts today.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joanne Chianello

City affairs analyst

Joanne Chianello is an award-winning journalist and CBC Ottawa's city affairs analyst. You can email her at joanne.chianello@cbc.ca or tweet her at @jchianello.

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