Mayor Jim Watson made a point at his swearing-in last week, as he has many times since his election, of saying that Ottawa voted for change.
It’s hard to disagree after so many incumbents were sent packing. One knock against municipal politics in Ottawa was that there was too much job security for sitting councillors, who tended to be re-elected no matter what. This time around, voters put the lie to that.
Still, interpreting “messages” from voters is a tricky business, and there’s arguably something less than revolutionary in our choice of Mayor Watson, a career politician and former mayor of Ottawa.
After Larry O’Brien, a political neophyte who freely admits he learned on the job with sometimes less than flawless results, perhaps we were looking not so much for big change as a little more experience in the mayor’s office.
Watson understandably got a little unstuck in time during his first press conference back as mayor. Asked about the current controversy over police conduct, he affirmed at one point he’d be speaking to “Chief Ford” about it. That would be Brian Ford, who headed the police department the last time Watson was at city hall.
It was a minor slip, and at any rate, the mayor correctly pointed out that while evidence is disturbing, the SIU is investigating, and we should let them get on with it. My take: Most of us acknowledge that policing is a tough job and we can quibble about the statistical prominence of bad apples, but when we start recognizing certain cops in those cellblock videos, we’ve probably got a problem.
The inauguration itself still featured plenty of traditional trappings, the mayor decked out in his chain of office and a fur-lined robe, and, councillors in academic-style black gowns, all led on and off the stage by a bagpiper like so many haggises.
But Watson made a couple of well-publicized changes, moving the ceremony out to the Shenkman Arts Centre in Orleans to send a message that this mayor’s aware of the whole city, not just the environs of his Laurier Avenue office, and ditching the $25,000 wine and catering budget for coffee and cookies from Tim Hortons as a show of austerity.
This, however, was all pre-game show. It’s when the gavel comes down Wednesday on first meeting of this new council that you’ll begin to see what sort of change you voted for.