The debt as of Dec. 31, 2010 was $835 million, according to Isabelle Jasmin, Deputy City Treasurer, Corporate Finance whose figures were relayed to The Bulldog through the city’s media relations department by email.
However by Dec. 31, 2016, the accumulated debt at the City of Ottawa had skyrocketed to $1.71 billion or more than twice the amount than when the Watson years began.
In other words, the Watson administration has more than doubled in six years the debt that took the entire history of the City of Ottawa to accumulate.
Watson has painted himself as the boring number-cruncher who strives to keep Ottawa’s property-tax increases to two per cent. And he has done this while drastically raising some municipal utility bills and fees.
But the real story behind Watson’s fiscal affairs is his ability to create debt and deficits. While holding property-tax increases to two per cent, last year he created the largest operating deficit in the history of Ottawa.
But in the Watson realm, image is everything so he touts his two-per-cent property-tax increases as a sign he is a fiscal conservative. That is anything but the truth.
What Watson has been doing is wildly creating debt during his mayoral years that will be left for the next mayor and future generations of Ottawans to pay off. He is mortgaging the city finances to build great monuments during his years and leaving the city coffers bereft of cash following his term of office … all the time saying he is a fiscal conservative.
This is not the first time this has happened. When Watson was the mayor of the former city of Ottawa, amalgamation was made much more difficult because communities such as Nepean (which was debt-free) were reluctant to assume the Watson debt.
Eventually amalgamation came about through legislation from the Ontario government of former premier Mike Harris. Queen’s Park went over the heads of municipal leaders to impose amalgamation.
But now Watson is running up a spectacular debt with no amalgamation in the offing to cover his spending.
Watson decided not to run for mayor in the first amalgamated election leaving former regional chairman and Ottawa mayor Bob Chiarelli to clean up Watson’s mess.
That in part is spurring speculation that Watson will not run for re-election in 2018 and stoked rumours that he is shopping his services to obtain a prestigious appointment.
That said, Watson has announced officially he is running in 2018 but that doesn’t bind him to hit the hustings next year.
A number of city hall insiders say that the accumulated debt, once Ottawans discover its magnitude, will eventually drive Watson from municipal government. These same insiders say Watson fears that a capable electoral opponent could use the accumulated debt figures to force him from office.
The figures are above. They are not good. They are not good at all.
Photo above: Mayor Jim Watson is not a sure thing to run for re-election in 2018.
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