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Ottawa mayor, an ex-McGuinty minister, aims to 'pin down' local candidates

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson is inserting himself into the Ontario election campaign, asking local candidates to answer a questionnaire about where they stand on city issues.

The mayor is circulating an 11-question survey to candidates from all parties seeking their views on such things as whether their political party supports contributing funds to a new federal-provincial affordable housing framework and whether they "personally" agree the province should spend $600-million on Ottawa's light rail transit project.

He wants to know, too, if each candidate supports the city's request for 20 gaming tables for the Rideau Carleton Raceway Slots in a two-year pilot project.

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The mayor is looking after the Ottawa taxpayer now – but for seven years, Mr. Watson sat in Dalton McGuinty's cabinet. He resigned last year in anticipation of his run for mayor.

Ottawa is a small town politically, with many layers to its political relationships.

Mr. Watson is conscious of this. He said he will not put his personal spin on any of the answers. The results will be "released unedited" because that is the "most objective way to do it," he said.

The survey, he said, is simply a "good way to pin down candidates on where they specifically stand on issues important to our city and property taxpayers."

There is a precedent. When he was Ottawa mayor for the first time, from 1998 to 2000, Mr. Watson sent out a survey during the 1999 provincial election campaign.

However, he hadn't been in provincial politics then.

Against all of this background, he is now asking candidates to answer a simple "yes" or "no" to his questions.

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The deadline is Sept. 26, and he will post the responses on the city's website on Sept. 29, a week before the Oct. 6 vote.

Candidates are asked to send their responses to George Young, who now works for the mayor but was a long-time senior Liberal aide, serving as the federal party's national director when Jean Chrétien was prime minister. He was also a key supporter of former leader Stéphane Dion.

This may not be so easy for a candidate such as Progressive Conservative Randall Denley, who is running to defeat incumbent Liberal Bob Chiarelli in Mr. Watson's former riding of Ottawa West-Nepean.

Mr. Denley, a former newspaper columnist, was not exactly easy on Mr. Watson when he was running for mayor last year.

And Mr. Watson took a shot at Mr. Denley on Twitter the night before the campaign began.

"Saw my first Randall Denley signs – all illegally placed in boulevards on Carling Ave. I'm sure he will remove them," the mayor tweeted. The Denley camp took down the signs.

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"Power of the Tweet," Mr. Watson proclaimed.

Now what about this survey?

Chris Froggatt, Mr. Denley's campaign manager, says the candidate will participate.

"Yes. We will be responding to the survey," he told The Globe. "Because these are fair questions to be asked by a municipality during an election, despite what may be the personal motivation of the mayor."

Mr. Froggatt was once chief of staff to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. Considered a top notch organizer, he knows the riding well, as he ran Mr. Baird's campaigns there.

Mr. Baird represents Ottawa West-Nepean federally, and for a time shared it with Mr. Watson. The two have a cordial relationship.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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