Leadership is what we need, but the residents of Ottawa have been left wanting.
What are the characteristics of a leader? A leader is capable not only of developing a vision, but also articulating that vision to the people, inspiring most to embrace it and taking the necessary steps to achieve it. A leader stays above the fray, abstaining from bickering in public. He or she lets subordinates bask in the glow of success but shoulders the failures personally.
Mayor Jim Watson’s “vision”, using the term loosely, can be summed up in three points. He promised an open, transparent and accountable administration. He stressed he will keep property tax increases under control. He promised to deliver Phase I of the LRT on-time and on-budget with an iron-clad contract.
So, has he articulated his vision to the people? Repeatedly. Has he inspired most to embrace those elements? Perhaps those who are more worried about how much they pay in taxes, but are less concerned about what they get for their money. Has anyone taken the necessary steps to achieve his vision? Sort of.
When it comes to the open, transparent and accountable administration the negatives are long.
First the resolution, passed unanimously by a council that clearly fails to understand its obligations, to limit the public discussion about the annual budget. It requires that a councillor identify an equal amount of funding from one or more budget line items to offset a proposed increase in another line item. Open or transparent? Not even close.
The failure of his administration to secure the land rights from the National Capital Commission to the western exit of the LRT is a $100-million plus fiasco. Once his absolute capitulation on the issue had been made public, he had the audacity to say that the extra $100-million-plus cost cited by his administration to trench and cap a kilometre of “scrub land” along the Ottawa River had been magically “value-engineered” out of the updated cost estimate for LRT Phase 2. Accountable? To no one.
The coup de grace came during the last six months. The revelation of the $10-million Christmas Miracle (trademark pending by Councillor Rick Chiarelli), was shared with his inner circle, but not with everyone on council. And then he boasted about his decision to withhold critical information from council to the media. Open, transparent or accountable? No, no and no.
The promise of maintaining control over property taxes isn’t really part of a vision. It is more about stewardship. When we take into account the significant increases in non-property tax line items, such as water and sewer usage fees, the rural property drainage fees, and OC Transpo fare increases, well an objective view would be to conclude that the taxes and compulsory payments that a property owner or resident has to make have not been limited to the 2.5 and 2.0 per cent promised..
The other side of the stewardship equation is that the taxes and fees will be used in a manner that will at least maintain, and preferably improve the assets of the city. Maintain? Try driving down Hunt Club Drive. It is a ski-cross course, run on rubber tires, as each driver slaloms around myriad potholes. But don’t worry, we heard last fall that road repairs were Watson’s highest priority (at least for the duration of that press conference). Improve? Any suggestions on what infrastructure has been improved? The silence is deafening.
Finally, the LRT. On time? Six months late and counting. On budget? Iron-clad contract? The mayor’s administration is mute on the subjects. It should have a good idea of how much over budget it is, but the combination of the aforementioned decisions to not to provide an open, transparent and accountable administration and an election later this year have left us with a lot of questions, but no answers.
Stay above the fray and abstain from bickering in public? Ask the rank-and-file police officers for their evaluation. Then there was a three-party Twitter spat involving former councillor Alex Cullen, Councillor Mark Taylor and Watson last year about a community facility in Bayshore. Let’s just say that the interchange was not flattering for any of the parties. His badgering and berating of councillors who dare to disagree with him is inconsistent with the pan-government initiatives to put bullies in their proper place.
As for letting his subordinates bask in the glow of success, sometimes, but given the performance of the individual councillors and committee chairs, those opportunities have been few and far between. Let’s be generous and give him a C, which by today’s standards in high school is now below average.
Shouldering the failures? I will defer to Councillor Riley Brockington and Councillor Mathieu Fleury, once they manage to get out from under the bus Watson tossed them under.
We need leadership, but we have been left wanting for more than eight years. We need a real leader to step forward in the next month or so, to inspire us with a vision on how to make Ottawa successful.