Watson looks to revamp city council with borough system
Mayoral candidate Jim Watson says creating a borough system to reduce the number of city councillors would help residents be more connected to city council.
His vision is to have four boroughs each consisting of a small group of councillors who are elected and have jurisdiction over local matters.
The system would also reduce the number of city councillors from 23 to between 14 and 17, saving an estimated $2 million annually in salaries and office budgets.
Watson says the borough system would free up city council to work on bigger city-wide issues such as the budget and light rail.
“What I’ve noticed are people in Orléans and other outlying areas feel disconnected from downtown city hall,” Watson says. Following the amalgamation almost a decade ago, he says people in rural areas still feel they aren’t always being heard in the decision making.
“Why should all the city councillors be able to decide what’s important for one community?” Watson says. “This bogs down the rest of city hall. Now, councillors are casting a vote on something which has no impact on their constituents.”
The recent controversy over the roundabout at Jeanne D’Arc and Orleans Boulevard is an example of how an issue is better understood and dealt with at a local level, Watson says. The east end councillors did not endorse the project but it was voted through anyway.
With the possible reduction of city councillors, some suburban and urban wards would be increased in size, but no rural seats would be affected since they are protected by a court ruling.
His electoral opponents have expressed concern over the plan. Larry O’Brien said the reduction of councillors would “shift the decision making back to the core of the city,” while Alex Cullen said reducing council would come at the cost of reducing the democratic representation in the city.
Watson counters the arguments by pointing out the numerous cities which have borough systems such as Toronto and Montreal.
“We have the most councillors per capita in Ottawa than anywhere else in the country,” Watson says. Currently in Ottawa there is one city councillor for an average of 34,000 residents in a ward, compared to one councillor for 65,000 in Calgary and a ratio of 1:57,000 in Toronto.
“One size does not fit all for every part of the city, and city hall is a long way from Orléans,” Watson says. “I think councillors do a great job representing their constituents but local decisions should be made in your own communities. I hope this can make government more accessible for people.”
If elected, Watson says he would appoint a panel of experts to advise on how a borough system should work and whether the reduction of councillors is needed.
As far as funding for the boroughs goes, Watson says they would not receive separate funding for local projects. “If it’s already in the budget then it won’t have to be re-approved, only if additional funding is required would it go to council for approval,” Watson explains.
Cumberland ward councillor Rob Jellett says he would consider supporting the plan. “Listen, anything that simplifies government and gives people a better voice is a good thing,” Jellett says.
“Myself and the other east end councillors already work together closely on issues but we don’t have the authority to go ahead and make decisions on simpler things like stop signs and park improvements,” he says.
He says his only concern is the logistics of the funding. He says he will wait to see what the panel recommends before making any decisions, but says he appreciates the idea behind it – keeping things local.
If elected, Watson says he would propose the plan to council within six months. Electing a smaller council, however, would not be possible until the next municipal election.
Mayoral candidate Jim Watson wants to create a borough system for the city of Ottawa.(