Live City Check-In—One-on-one with Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson

A candid conversation with Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, on how his city is dealing with the challenges of COVID-19 and what the short, medium and long-term impacts on the city could look like

5 Key

A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

1. Proud of the City of Ottawa’s response

Mayor Watson highlighted that he is proud of the city’s public health and economic responses to COVID-19, adding that the number of cases in the city are going down. Mayor Watson also discussed the implementation of two task forces in response to the COVID-19 pandemic: a human needs task force and an economic recovery task force. The former deals with the most vulnerable people within the community while the latter focuses on the short-term and long-term effects of the pandemic on the local economy.

2. Reinstating funding for public health

Mayor Watson discussed the reinstating of funding for public health services which were previously cut by the province. “We managed to sort of lobby them. I worked with John Tory and others to get some of the cuts reinstated,” Mayor Watson said.  “But we’re going to have to have a serious discussion with the province. You can’t go and cut public health because it’s played such an important role in the fight against COVID-19.”

3. Delineating responsibilities of public health services

Mayor Watson called for a clearer delineation of the responsibilities with regards to the public health system. He highlighted that Canada’s health system is comprised of various branches, with different levels of government responsible for each, and this leads to “too many people involved, resulting in a duplication of effort.”  “You got public health at the local level, and the provincial government has health[care], the federal government has aboriginal health,” said Mayor Watson. “It’s very poorly coordinated.”

4. Impacts to the local economy

Mayor Watson discussed the impacts of remote working and learning on the local economy as well as on the city’s coffers. He said that the reduced economic activity due to people working from home has significantly impacted businesses in the downtown area. He also said that the purpose of the city investing in Light Rail Transit was “to get people in and out of the city as quickly and efficiently as possible.” Now that fewer people are coming in and out of the city’s core due to social distancing, the Mayor said the City is losing money at an unsustainable pace due to lost revenue from transit.

5. Heading into Day 100

As we approach the 100th day of COVID-19 being designated as a pandemic by the World Health Organization, Mayor Watson said that it is essential to “keep the message fresh” with regards to adhering to COVID-19 guidelines. He said, “we have to continue that because unfortunately that’s the only way we know to stop the spread [of COVID-19].” He added that the three orders of government have worked well together as they’ve navigated the unchartered waters of COVID-19, putting aside partisanship for the betterment of the community