Ottawa·ELECTION 2018

Watson cancels photo op appearance after complaints of rule breaking

Mayor Jim Watson cancelled his appearance at a city photo op after the city clerk received calls asking if the event was against election rules.

City clerk found concerns about contravening election rules 'had merit'

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson cancelled a city-led photo op to avoid perceived conflict after complaints, a representative from his office said. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Mayor Jim Watson cancelled his appearance at a city photo op after the city clerk received calls asking if the event was against election rules.

Incumbent candidates are forbidden from using taxpayer resources to help their re-election campaigns.

The mayor's appearance was cancelled less than half an hour before the event Friday afternoon, but the issue began earlier this week.

Watson announced his environmental platform, which features a promise to pilot electric buses, on Wednesday through an emailed statement.

"We've seen the number of electric bus options skyrocket in the last little while," Watson told reporters on Thursday.

He said there are concerns about the distances the buses have to travel because of Ottawa's geography but "the least we can do is kick the tires and try it out."

Jim Watson released his environmental platform on Wednesday. Among the commitments is to test electric buses as a potential replacement for diesel in Ottawa's public transit fleet. 0:31

Later that day, city staff sent out a press release announcing the mayor would be taking part in an "electric bus demonstration," complete with a photo and interview opportunity. 

City solicitor Rick O'Connor received a complaint and several inquiries from the media which he "found had merit."

He directed his staff to advise the mayor's office to take certain measures to make sure the event doesn't break the city's blackout rules — which meant no photo op and no formal media interviews. 

Avoiding 'perceived conflict'

Less than half an hour before the event, city staff sent out a new press release for the event that scrapped any mention of the mayor — but did not explain the change.

Watson cancelled his appearance to avoid any perceived conflict, according to an email from the mayor's spokesperson Mathieu Gravel. 

The mayor intends on dropping by the OC Transpo garage to see the bus at some point next week, privately. 

It's crystal clear that a photoshoot organized by OC Transpo, about a campaign promise made the day before, is using taxpayers' money for a campaign event.- Clive Doucet

Fellow mayoral candidate Clive Doucet said he heard about Watson's planned appearance on the radio and "couldn't believe his ears."

A seasoned politician like the mayor should know better, Doucet said.  

"It's crystal clear that a photoshoot organized by OC Transpo, about a campaign promise made the day before, is using taxpayers' money for a campaign event," said Doucet.

The City of Ottawa held an electric bus test on Oct. 5, 2018. Mayor Jim Watson — whose re-election platform contains a promise to introduce the buses — was planning to attend the test, but he cancelled in order to not run afoul of election rules.

Kanata North Coun. Marianne Wilkinson, a member of the transit commission, was the only elected official to attend the electric bus launch.

Wilkinson, who is not running for re-election, said Watson was wise to cancel.

"It's really difficult for people in office who are running and have their regular work on their plate," she said.

"Keeping the two separate is extremely difficult."  

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