Ottawa·ELECTION 2018

Watson launches re-election campaign with $1M economic development plan

From paving the shoulders on rural roads to cutting patio fees in half, Jim Watson's first major re-election promise included at least $1 million in economic redevelopment plans.

Plan includes $500K for Invest Ottawa, but costing won't come until later

Jim Watson makes his first major campaign announcement at a rally at the Innovation Centre on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018. (CBC)

From paving the shoulders on rural roads to cutting patio fees in half, Jim Watson's first major re-election promise included at least $1 million in economic redevelopment plans.

The bulk of that money would go toward increasing Invest Ottawa's funding by $500,000 — which Watson said Sunday would help retain and attract talent to fill the 3,000 vacant high-tech jobs in the capital.

Jim Watson promised he would cut city patio fees in half if re-elected. (Idil Mussa/CBC)

Watson's other economic development promises, which the incumbent mayor unveiled at a rally attended by about 200 people, included:

  • Cutting the fees for patios that encroach on city property by half, which would cost the city $280,000 in foregone revenue.
  • Investing $25,000 in an "attractions passport" for Grade 6 graduates and exchange students that would give them free entrance to local museums. 
  • Increasing funding to the Ottawa Film Office by $60,000 to help bring projects to the recently announced sound stage campus on the former Greenbelt Research Farm.

Watson made several other pledges that didn't include costs, including trying to bring back La Machine — a suggestion that elicited spontaneous applause from the crowd — and Red Bull Crashed Ice.

La Machine was a huge hit when it was here in the summer of 2017. Watson pledged Sunday he would try to bring it back to Ottawa. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Potentially the most expensive and undefined promise was to pave the shoulders of some rural roads to increase the cycling network in the countryside, which Watson argued could increase rural tourism.

But this promise didn't come with a price tag. It costs about $95,000 for one kilometre of paved shoulder if it's undertaken as a stand-alone project, but less if it's part of a road-resurfacing initiative.

Jim Watson takes questions after from reporters after announcing his economic development plan on Sunday. (CBC)

Bring down cost for festivals

As part of his pledge to increase economic activity, Watson said he'd fight to allow security at festivals and parades to be performed by "safety professionals" other than police officers. 

He used Glowfair — which is run by the Bank Street BIA — as an example of a festival that could save $10,000 if some of its security could be performed by non-police constables.

While the former Liberal government had made changes to the Ontario Police Act that would have allowed this, the current PC government stopped the reforms — which were generally opposed by police unions — from going through.

If the changes go ahead, the city could also save money on security costs at municipal construction sites.

"Now this may seem like an ambitious plan to continue our city's economic momentum, but continuing to support good jobs across the city is one of the responsibilities of any municipal government," Watson said.

Clive Doucet said Watson's economic development plan reads like a 'laundry list of debits and credits.' (CBC News)

'Laundry list': Doucet

Fellow mayoral candidate Clive Doucet, however, didn't agree.

"I don't see anything ambitious there at all. It's just a repeat of what's been going on for eight years," said Doucet.

"It feels more like a laundry list of tourist debits and credits … not a real economic strategy."

Doucet argued that companies will be attracted to Ottawa if housing is affordable and if transit is more effective. His transportation plan includes lowering transit fares for each of the next four years and launching a regional rail plan to connect Ottawa to communities outside its borders.

"People need to be able to come and go from work," he said.

Neither Doucet nor Watson have released their plan for affordable housing yet.

Tax increase higher than 2 per cent?

Watson didn't say Sunday where the money for these promises would come from, adding that he would lay that out in a few weeks when he releases his tax plan.

In the last two election campaigns, Watson has promised specific annual tax-increase targets: 2.5 per cent in the 2010 campaign and two per cent in the 2014 campaign.

But the two per cent increase in each of the past four years has come under criticism from some councillors and residents, who argue the city has not kept up with basic city services like road repair and snow removal.

And with rate of inflation currently around 2.5 per cent, Watson may have to set a higher target than he has in the past.

"We will have a plan that is affordable and takes into account everything from inflation to pressures on our budget," said Watson.

 "We want to make sure anything I promise is realistic and affordable."