Mayor Watson gives his final State of the City Address

Ottawa City Hall convened yesterday for the first time this year but the session marks the twilight of Jim Watson’s tenure as mayor.

It is also the final year on the council for Catherine McKenney and Diane Deans. Both have thrown their hats in for the run to replace the retiring mayor which means they will not be eligible to seek re-election to council.

ABOVE: Ryan Reynolds said that he was "a little choked up" and thanked Ottawa for naming a street after him.

Today’s address is one for the history books. As Ottawa’s longest-serving mayor begins to prepare to bid farewell to a city that he has served for as long as many residents have called the city home. After nearly 12 years in office this time around (he was previously mayor from 1997-2000), the mayor believes he has much to brag about. Rather than go into the usual yearly report, he decided to go over what he and the council had achieved in his three terms as Mayor.

After opening statements, Mayor Watson held a moment of silence for the six deceased in the Eastway Tank explosion on January 13, 2022.

The mayor was optimistic about the pace of reconciliation actions with the First Nation’s communities in the city. He has planned initiatives in keeping with the ongoing goals of improving relations. Included is a public art project for the new central library being constructed at Lebreton Flats that will feature five significant pieces by Indigenous artists.

ABOVE: A rendering of the Chief William Commanda Bridge scheduled to open in late 2022.

Watson also spoke optimistically of the renaming of the Prince of Wales Bridge, the Chief William Commanda Bridge. Before his passing in 2011, Commanda was the Chief of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg Reserve near Maniwaki, Quebec (1951 to 1970). The bridge will reopen in the fall of 2022 as a pedestrian footpath.

In addition, the mayor is in talks with the chief of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan, Wendy Jocko, to open a reservation extension within the city limits to promote cultural ties between the communities.

Watson acknowledged the new council liaison for Women and Gender Equity, a new council liaison for Anti-Racism and Ethno-Cultural initiatives, and an Anti-Racism Secretariat set up to create the city’s first anti-racism strategy.

On the environmental front, the mayor spoke optimistically of the purchase of electric buses to help reduce emissions and the transfer of existing bus routes to the electric LRT. This year, OC Transpo will purchase 74 more electric buses on top of the four already in use, with an end goal of 450 electric buses in use by 2027. By 2036, the city hopes for public transit to be emission-free.

Among the council’s other accomplishments, the mayor spoke of the creation of Invest Ottawa, which between 2012 and 2020 brought $1 billion of direct and foreign investment to Ottawa and created 11,000 jobs. Invest Ottawa also created the Digital Mainstreet program, which helped local businesses to solidify their online presence during the initial lockdowns.

Watson spoke fondly of the revitalization of Lansdown Park into a cultural, entertainment centre and green space, and the opening of 166 new parks in the city since 2010 with 11 new openings this year, and multiple new sports and athletic facilities, as well as expansions on current community centres. 

ABOVE: Mayor Watson spoke with pride of Ottawa's high vaccinations rates.

Other accomplishments the mayor was happy to speak of include one of the highest vaccination rates of any major city in the country and the high quality of living that the city’s infrastructure, including bike paths and parks, affords residents. He also called out residents for acts of kindness like young Clayton McGuire, Hani Soueid, owner of Olgivie Pizza, and Ottawa ex-pat, actor Ryan Reynolds who the city will be honouring with a street name.

Watson also addressed the city’s problems, including the housing issue, and commented that strides have been made in building accommodations for the less fortunate, but he also acknowledged that the last two years have been hard for everyone in the city.

Jim Watson will never again deliver a speech on the state of the city. History will tell if he has left a transformed city that is better to live in than when he took office back in 2010, but three back-to-back, massive election victories point to a mayor who has always had the population’s support.