Elementary, Watson!

The colorful flash of fireworks lighting up the Ottawa sky ushered us into the New Year a few weeks ago. The foundation was laid for what is shaping up to be one of the biggest years the city has ever seen. Today, the proverbial cherry was placed firmly on top of that cake and for one Mayor Jim Watson it couldn’t be any sweeter!

Watson was named the top mayor in the country in a poll released today by Mainstreet/Postmedia. With his 79% approval rating, the mayor edged over popular Prairie Province city leaders like Charlie Clark in Saskatoon and Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi.   Rounding out the top five were Denis Coderre from Montreal and Edmonton’s Don Iveson.

“Overall, every Canadian Mayor we polled has a net positive approval rating – though some Mayors are faring radically better than others” said Quito Maggi, president of Mainstreet Research.

“Overall, local city councilors are polling higher than their respective city councils, though they lag on net scores in Toronto and Winnipeg and run about even in Ottawa.”

In an interview with the Ottawa Citizen, Maggi said that these approval ratings across the country were “great…even at the lowest end”. Not a bad announcement considering the celebratory significance for the country as a whole this year as it marks the sesquicentennial.

Catherine McKenna passes the torch to Mayor Watson on route to the eternal flame on New Years Eve. Photo Credit: Andre Gagne

Watson, born in Montreal, would go on to attend school at Carleton graduating in the early 80s with a Bachelor of Public Affairs degree from the University’s School of Journalism. Just under a decade later he’d enter his first public office when he was elected councilor for the Capital Ward. He gained popularity early on when, in a bold statement against extreme spending by the city, he donated his 2% yearly salary increase to charity quickly doing the same with a $5,200 severance. Feeling this still wasn’t sufficient, Watson would cut his own pay by 13% during his second term.

Three years later Watson won 83 per cent of the popular vote to become the youngest mayor in Ottawa history. It would be a post he would resign from in 2000 to take a position as president and CEO of the Canadian Tourism Commission. Falling back on his journalistic roots during his time out of office, Watson would host The New RO @ Noon for CHRO-TV and articles by the former mayor could regularly be seen in the Ottawa Citizen. In 2002, while serving as chair for the United Way fundraising campaign, the organization raised a record $21 million.

Not able to stay out of politics for long, Watson served as the MPP for Ottawa West-Nepean in 2003 and was appointed Minister of Consumer and Business Services by then Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. In 2005 he became the first Ontario Minister of Health Promotion. There he was key in implementing the Smoke Free Ontario Act.?

A second term as Mayor looked elementary for Watson as he took the office again 2010. That popularity spiked once more when he was re-elected with 76% of the popular vote in 2014.

A large portion of Watson’s popularity could very well be attributed to the fact that he’s everywhere. He’s as conjoined to the city image as the Peace Tower and the “face of the city” has been known to rush to and from multiple events in a day. One might think he has a few twins roaming about. Back in 2012, the Citizen wrote of how Watson was married to Ottawa stating that while the mayor didn’t “have a family of his own” he looked at the “nine hundred thousand Ottawans” as his family.

Outside of the multiple appearances, his tenures have been busy ones. As Mayor, Watson has seen the opening of such important city landmarks as the TD Place, Shaw Centre and Vimy Memorial Bridge.  When the Redblacks brought the Grey Cup to Ottawa last year Watson was one of the first to boast of the success of the revitalized Lansdowne Park. He also oversaw the start of construction on the Confederation Line and has been instrumental in the city’s light rail plans moving forward.

The news of Watson’s top ranking couldn’t have come at a better time as he’ll be hosting other Canadian mayors this Friday for the Big City Mayors Caucaus of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

A busy mayor has no time to bask in the glory of today’s announcement. For Jim Watson, it was business as usual as he announced World Religion Day in Ottawa with leaders of the Baha’i community.

It’s not the first time Watson’s popularity has had him topping a list. We saw it seven years ago when Ottawa Life ranked him at #1 in the Top 50 People in the Capital back in 2010.

Congrats Jim!