As I was awaiting the results of the 2018 election about three years ago, I made my decision – even before I knew the results – that if I was successful that night, it would be my last election as Mayor of Ottawa.

The decision was both easy and tough. On the one hand, I loved almost every hour of every day and it was a true privilege and honour to serve as our city’s Mayor.

However, I also knew that I would be turning 60 during this term of Council, and if I was going to have one more career, then I needed to move on from elected office.

So, for the first time in many years, my name won’t be on a ballot, as I turn my attention to finishing some important city building projects, and then bid adieu to the Mayor’s office in November 2022, after nearly 15 years representing the residents of Ottawa.

I’m often asked what I’m most proud of during my time in elected office.

That’s a hard question because it doesn’t boil down to just one issue or project.

Many of the initiatives I am most proud of had been on the City’s books for years and some for decades.

For a variety of reasons, they were stuck in neutral, and I was fortunate to be able to work with many partners to move these ideas from the drawing board to completion.

In other words, my philosophy was a bit like Nike’s tag line: “Just Do It.” I’ve found the public were frustrated with years of debate and inaction on important projects.

If I could be so bold, allow me to focus briefly on a handful of initiatives I have been proud to be a part of. These were all accomplished by a team – citizens, labour, public servants, elected officials and business leaders – in other words, not just by me, but many engaged and dedicated residents and activists.

In no particular order, here a few projects, events and ideas that I am grateful to have played a small part in.

Syrian Refugees
We opened up our city to over 4,000 Syrian refugees escaping war in their homeland. Working with other levels of government, NGOs, Refugee 613 and faith-based groups, we helped to welcome these families to Canada’s capital with open arms and hearts.

Bridge Building
Our Councils have helped build many bridges connecting our communities, with most dedicated to cyclists and pedestrians:

  • Max Keeping Bridge by the baseball stadium
  • Odawa Crossing connecting Overbrook and Sandy Hill
  • Jackie Holzman Bridge in Kitchissippi
  • Flora Footbridge connecting the Glebe and Old Ottawa East
  • Chief William Commanda Bridge connecting Gatineau and Ottawa
  • Vimy Memorial Bridge in Riverside South
  • Juno Beach Bridge over the Airport Parkway
  • Rideau River Bridge at Carleton University
  • We also invested record amounts to repair and rehabilitate hundreds of kilometres of sidewalks and cycling infrastructure.

Invest Ottawa
We helped to create a new local economic development agency called Invest Ottawa in 2012 and opened the Innovation Centre at Bayview Yards in 2017.

We opened our LRT system and negotiated funding for Stage 2, and we are now working on Stage 3.

The start of this new transportation system was frustrating beyond belief and a massive letdown to its users. While we are now seeing an improvement in the reliability of the service, we must continue to hold our partners to account. I truly believe we have turned the corner with much better, reliable and consistent service for the people of Ottawa.

Arts and Libraries
We opened a new and impressive Ottawa Art Gallery and renovated Arts Court.

The OAG was a dream for decades and it finally became a reality in 2018.

We also approved a new Central Library, in partnership with Library and Archives Canada, which will be a net-zero carbon facility. We opened and expanded local libraries in Greely, Constance Bay, Westboro and Kanata. We also opened a new City Archives building in Nepean.

Tourism and Ottawa 2017
We helped to reenergize Ottawa’s tourism industry with a massive celebration under the auspices of Ottawa 2017.

Between La Machine, the Grey Cup, the NHL100 Classic, the JUNO Awards and hundreds of other special events, we set records for visitors, hotel occupancy and airport traffic.

We also opened the new Shaw Centre, which has allowed us to attract more events and conventions. We also inaugurated a new trade show complex, the EY Centre, which will be well served by Stage 2 LRT. We worked to develop important rural tourism programs and economic development plans to assist our rural villages and our farming community.

Our Environment
We received our first ever electric buses – and with Council’s support, we have ambitious plans to convert the entire fleet to electric. We also planted a record number of trees, including the Canada 150 maple groves in every ward, and we invested record amounts in cycling infrastructure in all parts of the city.

We have also had the highest quality drinking water in Ontario for seven years in a row, and we launched the Ottawa River Action Plan to prevent sewage overflows into the Ottawa River and keep our beaches open more often.

Natural Disasters
Working with our remarkable first responders, we tackled two massive floods and a tornado that tested our resolve – and these events reminded me of the ice storm of 1998, which took place a few weeks after I was sworn in as Mayor.

Our “Team Ottawa” approach, with great leaders like Dr. Etches, Steve Kanellakos, Tony Di Monte, Peter Sloly, Pierre Poirier, Donna Gray, and many others, saw Ottawa boast the best vaccination rate of any large city in Canada.

And our task forces on Economic Recovery and Human Needs set the gold standard on how to help our most vulnerable and our small business owners make it through the pandemic.

Affordable Housing 
Working with other levels of government and our housing partners, this Council invested an historic amount in affordable housing in all parts of the city. We still need to do more, but we have approved an ambitious and aggressive 10-Year Housing and Homelessness Plan that will help thousands of our fellow residents.

Fighting Racism and Supporting Gender Equity
With the help of many councillors and residents, we created the Anti-Racism Secretariat and the Council Liaison for Women and Gender Equity. For the first time, we have gender equity on our advisory committees and boards.

We started on a path of reconciliation with First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities. I take great pride in knowing that one of the most iconic buildings in the city – the future Ottawa Public Library / Library and Archives Canada joint facility – will be a testament to our efforts by baring the Anishinabe name Adisoke.

Francophone Community
We dramatically improved French Language Services and opened La Maison de la Francophonie and La Nouvelle Scène, in addition to providing a record number of new recreation services in French, including in the west end.

Integrity and Accountability Initiatives
We initiated the City’s first Integrity Commissioner, the gift registry, lobbyist registry and Council’s Code of Conduct, which is widely regarded as one of the best in Ontario.

Lansdowne Park
After decades of dithering, we moved forward with an urban revitalization of Lansdowne Park. What was a 40-acre site of asphalt and crumbling infrastructure has morphed into a real people place with sports franchises, retail and restaurants, and massive amounts of greenspace, trees, gardens, a skateboard park, a playground – and even an apple orchard.

Who can forget the Grey Cup celebration and Henry Burris hoisting the Grey Cup in front of the Aberdeen Pavilion and thousands of fans!

Fiscal Discipline
We were also able to keep my tax promise by capping taxes each and every year for 12 consecutive budgets. And we improved labour relations with our union members and saw no strikes or work stoppages during the past 12 years.

City Hall
I am proud of having opened up City Hall to our residents and visitors alike, and it has become a real people place. We now have two art galleries, a small museum – the Barbara Anne Scott Gallery – the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame, and the Rink of Dreams.

We also created the Order of Ottawa to celebrate the achievements of distinguished residents, and the Mayor’s City Builder Award was a nice way to start each Council meeting by honouring a local volunteer who has had an impact in their community.

Serving as Mayor for the past 12 years has been the greatest honour of my life.

I am grateful to the residents who supported me through both good and challenging times – going back to my days as a city councillor for Capital Ward and as MPP and Minister for the riding of Ottawa West–Nepean.

I have been blessed to have amazing and hardworking staff during my four mandates, and it has been a true honour to serve with many incredibly dedicated public servants.

We are very blessed with a top-notch public service who have risen to the occasion so many times to help those in need – whether it’s the pandemic, the floods, tragic accidents, or a tornado.

I have served with over 100 different councillors during my time on Council, and while we didn’t always agree on everything, I respect their work and their role, and I thank them for their commitment to our city.

I want to thank my family and friends who have stuck by me over the years, as well as my dedicated volunteers, who are the heart and soul of any campaign.

My friends and family have been my rock, particularly through times when I’ve experienced homophobic slurs or graffiti, or anonymous attacks on social media.

The age of social media has been both a blessing and a curse.

I have felt the barrage of attacks that are levelled against politicians to be corrosive – and they make it more difficult to attract good people to run for public office.

It takes little courage to anonymously attack someone whose beliefs you disagree with, or who might be different than you based on your gender, race, religion or sexual orientation.

That being said, I am truly optimistic about our city’s future, notwithstanding the challenges most large cities face in the midst of a pandemic.

The next term of Council will see the completion of Stage 2 LRT, significant progress on our new Civic Hospital Complex, the opening of the new Central Library, and the implementation of our City’s new Official Plan, with an emphasis on 15-minute neighbourhoods.

I look forward to watching from the sidelines the progress our city will benefit from over the next few years – but I remind future mayors and councillors that our job is to plan and prepare for the next generation, and not just the next election.

Lord Baden Powell, the founder of the modern Scouting movement, had a simple but thoughtful view on our role in society, when he said: “Always leave the campsite in better shape than you found it.”

As I travel around our vast and beautiful city, I truly believe that we are leaving our city and its communities in better shape.

We’re far from perfect, but I wouldn’t want to live in any other city in Canada, the best country in the world.

I have given and will continue to give this job every single ounce of energy I have to give.

I look forward to my final months in office, and I thank the residents of Ottawa for the honour to serve you to the best of my abilities.

In friendship,

Jim Watson
City of Ottawa