“You go down (to city hall) and you kick Jim Watson’s ass.”
Those were the words from a Barrhaven woman offering her vote to me as I campaigned in the 2014 election. Her vote of confidence was clearly based on some of my columns in the Sun and she thought I had what was needed to stand tall and firm in front of the mayor.
I felt like a fraud. I’d seen too much at city hall to think success on Lisgar St. could come from trying to kick Watson’s butt. I recall as well a column written by former Citizen columnist David Reevely suggesting in a piece that I was one of a handful of candidates in the race who could make life a little more difficult for the mayor. To be frank, I have Reevely envy, the guy is brilliant, and to think he thought I might have what it takes to remain strong in the face of the kind of pressure that Mayor Jim Watson’s office inflicts on its opponents, well – again – the word fraudster came to mind.
It’s pretty easy to criticize from the outside of council. And save for the mayor refusing to take your calls, there aren’t many ramifications for pointing out his flaws in a Sun column or on my blog. And frankly, the mayor has lots of flaws – so there’s plenty of material.
But for a city councillor, especially a newbie, butting heads with the mayor – either publicly or behind closed doors – comes with its own set of risks. While city council theoretically has final approval for all spending, Watson has managed to get a majority of councillors to toe the line and push forward his agenda. And if you butt heads with the mayor, as a city councillor – you risk not getting projects of importance in your own ward pushed through. It’s a tricky situation and politicians can easily find themselves on the outside looking in.
Watson has already called on his new council for an era of cooperation. There’s nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately what Watson really means is not to mess with his agenda – and then all will be right with the world. Perhaps there are problems at city hall because Watson himself doesn’t cooperate with his council.
All of that being said, there are a number of new councillors – seven of them in fact – most of them anxious to prove to their constituents they have a backbone and won’t bend to Watson’s pressure or his office’s threats.
The good news is that Watson doesn’t hold all the cards. And better yet, you don’t need to kick his butt to prove your point.
There are plenty of city politicians who prove that – Diane Deans, Rick Chiarelli, Catherine McKenney, Scott Moffatt – to name a few. Yes, city councillors can stand up for their residents, for what they believe is right for their constituency.
So to the new councillors, remember how you got to city hall – with the support of your taxpaying residents who’ve put their trust in you. It’s quite an honour.
Do them proud.