Watson: The mayor of Ottawa’s advice to aspiring municipal politicians

Here’s Mayor Jim Watson’s list of five top ways to succeed at the polls in this year’s municipal and school board elections.

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Monday, May 2 is the first day individuals can register to run for mayor, city council or school board. For veterans and aspiring politicians alike, it’s like the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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By registering, candidates have the right to spend and raise funds, purchase goods and services such as signs and pamphlets, and begin their quest to return or become a municipal politician.

It has been a true honor and pleasure for me to serve my city through elections, and although this will be my last term, I would like to thank and congratulate the candidates who will be registering on Monday, and until the 19 August, date of nominations. close. It’s not always easy to put your name on a ballot; it comes with a lot of scrutiny and often plenty of personal and anonymous attacks on social media that can be hurtful and demoralizing.

After eight elections, I thought I could offer some unsolicited advice that might help you on this democratic journey. Here is my list of the top five ways to succeed at the polls:

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1). Under promise and over deliver. Far too many politicians do the exact opposite and promise the sky. Then they take office and realize they can’t keep half the promises they made.

2). Bad shots; good specs. “Cut the fat.” “Zero means zero.” “Do more with less.” It all makes for a good soundbite, but audiences want concrete plans, not sticker slogans. If you want to promise a new initiative to the city, research the cost of the project and find ways to pay for it practically through the city budget.

3). Do your best to ignore negative social media. Twitter is both a blessing and a curse for politicians. It’s a great way to send a short, concise message to your hundreds or thousands of subscribers. But it can also be corrosive: personal and anonymous attacks can demoralize candidates and their volunteers. Try not to overreact to anonymous tweets and ignore those who hurl abuse at you on the condition of anonymity. And remember: fake and anonymous Twitter accounts don’t vote. Face-to-face interactions at the door are a much more authentic and valued way to reach voters.

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4). Do your homework. Unlike the federal and provincial governments, the city council is made up of 24 (soon to be 25) individual, independent councillors. A party system allows a majority government at the federal or provincial level to easily push policy through the House of Commons or the Legislative Assembly. At the municipal level, however, you must ensure that the majority of your colleagues will support you. In other words, don’t make outlandish promises for a new spending initiative if it’s clear that most board members won’t support your idea.

5). If it’s too good to be true, then it probably isn’t. Too many politicians treat elections like it’s Christmas morning. Beware of those who promise something ‘free’ – because everything costs something. When people ask for free services like public transit or recreational programs, you have to figure out how to pay them one way or another. So when you’re going door to door, be prepared to answer the question, “How much more property tax do I have to pay for this?” For those who promise to cut taxes, be prepared to say which specific service you are going to cut or eliminate. Municipalities have very few tools to generate more revenue, beyond property taxes.

Serving on city council has been the honor of my life, and I have been grateful for the guidance given by those before me. Good luck to all and thank you for having the courage of your convictions.

And to Ottawa voters, keep the politicians’ feet on fire and remember to vote on October 24th.

jim watson has served as mayor of the amalgamated city of Ottawa since 2010. He is not running for election.

Jim Watson is shown in his office at Ottawa City Hall last fall.
Jim Watson is shown in his office at Ottawa City Hall last fall. Postmedia

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Melissa C. Keyes