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Toronto sendoff for Watson questioned

<p>A send-off for Jim Watson from his friends in Toronto is raising eyebrows in Ottawa.</p>

A send-off for Jim Watson from his friends in Toronto is raising eyebrows in Ottawa.


Watson, the former MPP for Ottawa – West Nepean, spent seven years at Queen's Park as a cabinet minister before stepping down in February to run for mayor of Ottawa.


To see him off, Watsons supporters are holding a $300 per ticket fundraising party for him on April 6 in Toronto.


Although the party is a fundraising event, it is not an official campaign event, said Serge Arpin, a spokesperson for Jim Watson.


"It's being run by a group of volunteers in Toronto," said Arpin. "That's the only event we're aware of that's happening outside of Ottawa. The vast majority of events and donations, above 99 percent, will come from the city of Ottawa."


While there is nothing wrong with receiving donations from residents of other cities, Bay Ward Councillor Alex Cullen — also registered to run for mayor — said the perception of the event is that Watson is milking his Liberal Party connections in Toronto to pad his campaign coffers.


The event is being co-chaired by Bob Richardson and Noble Chummar, both of whom have close ties to the Liberal Party.


Holding such an event in Toronto will help Watson make and maintain relationships that can benefit Ottawa if he is elected mayor, said Chummar.


"It's extremely responsible of a candidate to do that," he said. "Ottawa needs someone who can help drive investment back into Ottawa and keep connections alive. Bay Street is Bay Street and Jim's got a lot of friends on Bay Street."


The Toronto event for Watson is also accepting corporate donations. That's legal for candidates running in Ottawa, but not for candidates running in Toronto.


It even touts the Ottawa's Contribution Rebate Program, which Cullen finds problematic. In Ottawa any person who contributes over $50 is eligible for a rebate up to $187.50.


"I don't think it's appropriate that he uses the city property tax rebate program to subsidize his Toronto contributions," said Cullen. "I don't think it's appropriate to be going to Toronto for corporate contributions, when it's people who vote, not corporations."


Though city council elected not to institute a similar prohibition on corporate donations, Cullen has been a leading advocate for the ban in Ottawa.


The decision is ultimately up to the Provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs, a position that Watson vacated to run for Mayor.


"He had the opportunity," said Cullen. "He didn't choose to use it and now he's exploiting what the law permits. It's legal, but I don't think it's right."


Watson is officially launching his campaign with a party at the Ukrainian Orthodox Church on Byron Ave. on April 18.