At home with…Jim Watson

The garage is plastered with an ongoing collection of campaign posters. It’s clearly non-partisan as Republican Ronald Reagan’s poster butts up against Liberal Jean Chretien.

As a boy, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson dreamed of becoming a firefighter or even a church minister. “Church was so boring most of the time, but we had this great minister — a great orator, who was very powerful,” he remembers. “I wanted to become a church minister and ended up being a cabinet minister.”

Eventually, he decided on becoming a newspaper reporter and earned his degree in journalism from Carleton University. But a lack of jobs in the field led him to his first job as an information officer in the government and then press secretary to the Speaker of the House until he ran as an unknown for Ottawa’s city council in 1991 and won at the age of 29.

Now 50 and mayor of Ottawa for a second go-round, Watson has been everything from city councillor to head of a Crown corporation, MPP and cabinet minister in between.

“I would like to run for mayor again,” he says, “but you can’t plan too long in politics. You’re beholden to the public.” As for the rest of his bucket list?

“Well, I have no desire to go parachuting or hang-gliding,” he chuckles. “I don’t want to sound too flippant, but I’ve lived a good life so far. Great family and friends. I could keel over tomorrow and I’d leave this Earth a happy person.”

1. What does “home” mean to you?

I don’t spend a whole lot of time at home. It’s primarily used just to sleep in. I don’t cook here very often. I’m not a very good cook, but I’m often out at functions, so I’m grabbing something on the run. But home is special to every person — a place where you can relax and, you know, walk around in a pair of track pants and running shoes and you don’t have to put on pretences or airs for anyone.

2. What is your favourite room/nook in your home and why?

It’s probably the den. I’ve got a very nice comfortable, green, leather chair and the TV remote control is right next door on a little stool. It’s a chance for me to just go and watch the news, or watch a movie, just relax, read a book. It’s probably the most comfortable place, I find, in the house.

Do you have a favourite TV show or movie?

I was a big fan of The West Wing. Loved Desperate Housewives, that just ended this year. I watched that every Sunday. The Simpsons. Really like CBS Sunday Morning; it’s a very well-put-together news magazine. Criminal Minds, CSI. The challenge I have is I don’t get to watch TV that often, so I can’t always keep track of the plot lines.

3. If your home could be anywhere else, where would you like it to be and why?

I really love Manotick. I love the area around Watson’s Mill — no relation to me, unfortunately. I think there’s a lot of character on the main street and, of course, the river is just spectacular.

4. Who are your heroes?

I had a chance to meet, just very briefly for a couple of minutes — Nelson Mandela — when I worked at the House of Commons … When you think of someone who’s been in the public spotlight and sacrificed so much for what he believed in — basically in jail for years and years to fight Apartheid — that’s someone who you admire.

Also, I had a good friend who passed away when he was young from a roller blading accident — a guy named Carl Gillis. He would have been one of the great leaders in government and public service had he not passed away. He’s someone who I admire … And my parents.

5. Best moment in politics and the worst?

A couple of things. I was very pleased to implement the Smoke-Free Ontario Act. I was proud of that. And, I guess, the first time you’re elected. When I was elected as a city councillor in Ottawa in 1991, that was really exciting. I just remember very clearly, you know, the pride in my parents and sister when I came into the victory party at Abbotsford House. That was a moment I cherish.

The other side, the worst. I suppose when I decided not to run for mayor when the cities were amalgamated because I’d been in office for nine years and I thought it was time to move. I had a press conference at the old firehall on Sunnyside (Avenue). My sister and niece were there and they were teary-eyed and I was teary-eyed.

6. Who has been the great love of your life and when/where did you first meet?

I think it was when I was in cub camp. It was the nurse and I can’t remember her name. I actually got poison ivy and I had to go and see the nurse. She was the nicest person because she was the first person that allowed me to call her by her first name. You know, when you’re that age it’s always “Mrs. Smith” or “Mrs. Jones.” I can’t remember her name, but she was so sweet and pretty. I just thought she was sort of cool that she could actually (relate) to this kid in cub camp — 10 years old and she was probably 35 and she allowed me to call her by her first name.

I think it’s also the same with teachers. You think of teachers that you admired and liked and they often have a profound impact on you as well.

7. How would you like to be remembered?

This will be one of those video tapes that rolls when I die (laughs) … I have an old expression that I stole from Lord Baden Powell, who was the founder of the scouting movement. He once said, “Always leave the campsite in better shape than when you found it.” It’s a simple philosophy, but a pretty good one.

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