Over the past several years myself and other activists in Ottawa felt very uncomfortable with Mayor Jim Watson participating in the Ottawa Labour Day. Mayor Watson is not a friend of workers, the labour movement or our community allies.
While I am not certain if Mayor Watson ever received an official invitation from the Ottawa and District Labour Council to participate, it makes no sense for him to be welcomed at our labour day celebrations as some sort of working class hero. He has a clear track record that is anti-labour.
Here are the 10 reasons why the labour movement should not welcome Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson should the Ottawa Labour Day Parade this year:
1. When PSAC members at the Salvation Army Booth Street Centre shelter struck in 2012 for decent wages comparable to other shelters, Mayor Watson did not support them. The Salvation Army centre received substantial funding from the City of Ottawa when they callously forced their unionized workers onto winter picket-lines to fight against poverty wages as low as $11.31 per hour. The Mayor offered no support to these workers whatsoever when he was in a strong position to do so.
2. When the highly profitable crown corporation OLG locked out the PSAC members at the Rideau Carleton Raceway Slots last December, some 125 workers were forced onto picket-lines for nearly six months. Once again Mayor Watson, who does not hesitate to get involved in decision-making about casino and gaming operations in Ottawa, provided no support or assistance to the locked-out workers.
3. Mayor Watson was actually hostile toward the mostly racialized, Ottawa Airport Taxi drivers and their union (UNIFOR 1688) during the months-long lockout that began in August of 2015. He refused to take any responsibility despite the fact that the city regulates the taxi industry and has actually appointed a representative to the board of the Ottawa Airport Authority. The Airport Authority also obtained outrageous injunctions against the locked out drivers, with the apparent support of Mayor Watson.
4. Mayor Watson has allowed the predatory corporation Uber into our city at a time when other city mayors have taken a much more even-handed approach and supported their unionized taxi drivers.
5. Mayor Watson supports Public Private Partnership (P3) development projects that involve more privatization and private control of public assets, infrastructure, and services. This is clear from his position on several major infrastructure projects in our city such as the light rail project and the proposed Ottawa Public Library redevelopment.
6. Mayor Watson has aligned himself closely with corporate real estate developers, including voting to oppose a motion to eliminate corporate donations to municipal election campaigns. His cozy relationship with developers is especially clear in his active support for the so-called “Zibi” condo mega-project proposal, which is slated to be built on sacred territory of the Algonquin nation in the face of overwhelming opposition from 9 of the 10 federally-recognized Algonquin chiefs. A growing number of trade unions, including the OCDC and ODLC, have expressed support for these chiefs’ demand.
7. After expressing some initial concerns about the Canada Post plan to eliminate door-to-door mail delivery, the mayor refused to endorse a motion from Ottawa City Council supporting postal services, as hundreds of other municipalities passed. As a result of the mayor’s lack of leadership on this issue, the City of Ottawa was one of the only major cities in the country not to have taken this basic step in support of postal services and the 8,000-12,000 postal service jobs that this proposal was threatening.
8. The mayor has either been actively pursuing a job cutting agenda at City Hall (as in the case of OC Transpo jobs) or has remained silent in the face of local job losses, as in the recent case of CUPE members providing dispatch and other taxi services at Coventry Connections. Their jobs were cut and outsourced to the Philippines – with no reaction at all from Mayor Watson.
9. Mayor Watson has been silent on Kathleen Wynne’s privatization of Hydro One. Unlike other Ontario cities, under Watson’s leadership, Ottawa City Council never took a position opposed to this privatization, which is the largest in the province’s history and will lead to more privatization and sharp increases in hydro rates.
10. Last but not least, Mayor Watson has engaged in a despicable campaign to intimidate, belittle and silence community activists calling for justice in the recent death of Abdirahman Abdi, a Somali Muslim man with mental health issues, at the hands of two police officers. Watson went so far as to block black community activists from his social media account rather than support a community that has lost trust in our police force.
Mayor Watson supports an austerity agenda, which translates into social spending cuts, job cuts, privatization of public services and further marginalization of racialized communities. His real interests are clear as his policies are resulting in more gentrification, real estate boom for developers, bankers and the wealthy.
For these reasons Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson should not be made to feel welcome at this year’s labour day events in Ottawa or at any other labour movement events in the future.