In my two years living in Ottawa, I have been on shaky ground with federal and provincial politics. I arrived in Ottawa from the US, just before the Obama-McCain smackdown, and it would be an understatement to say that the Dion-Harper election was, by comparison, dull and tedious.
A year later, I was introduced to municipal politics through the back door — Larry O’Brien’s trial. The trial itself was not scintillating, but it did bring together otherwise reserved people, who talked about, dissed on and raged about O’Brien’s reign in the mayor’s chair. When the trial ended, the grumbling stopped — or at least people refrained from talking politics on the street.
Then January 2010 came around and Jim Watson stepped back into the municipal boxing ring. Suddenly, I found myself interested in municipal politics. When I met Watson in May, he was polite, thoughtful and pleasantly lacking in hubris. I watched Watson as the summer rambled on, as he continued his political campaign in an understated and gentlemanly way. That is, until Larry O’Brien announced his candidacy.
O’Brien’s reputation of speaking with his foot in his mouth precedes him, his quotes are often bandied about as what not to say when you are a politician, and he has a penchant for describing Watson as a milquetoast little old lady. I assumed that Watson would remain aloof from swinging verbal (albeit political) punches, but he seems to have joined into the fray — whenever O’Brien opens his mouth, Watson nitpicks every syllable of what comes out of it.
I found it best to ignore the tit-for-tat political game. But it was hard to do when it came to Pride. For me that was the low point — Watson’s campaign criticizing O’Brien for appearing at Pride. They were aghast he could have the audacity — his first time, during an election year — since Watson had marched in the parade many times.
Well, here’s the thing. I asked O’Brien to come to Pride.
I had interviewed him and asked if he would be attending the Pride parade. His answer was a categorical no — he did not want to be seen as being hypocritical. I could understand his point of view, but, as a card-carrying lesbian, I encouraged him to show his face. In fact, I went to his condo on Sunday and walked with him — and other city council candidates — to the start of Pride.
I am not sure why O’Brien’s showing his face at Pride irked the Watson campaign so much. After all, Watson was not marching in the parade because he was proud to be queer; he was marching to make a political statement. It wasn’t radical. It was practical.
Since then the political spat between O’Brien and Watson has spiralled out of control — what O’Brien announces, Watson denounces, and what Watson announces, well, O’Brien tries to denounce, but normally ends up fluffing it.
While O’Brien and Watson have played at being competitors and frontrunners, sparring back and forth with words, Clive Doucet has been building support by connecting with people, talking to them and building a steady following. Yes, he has taken swipes at both candidates (who wouldn’t?), but he has maintained his integrity.
Despite the pressures of the campaign, Doucet took time to reach out to two important groups — queers and women — in the final weeks.
Yes, I am biased. I am queer and I am a woman, so when I meet a man who takes time to meet with me to discuss queer issues in the campaign’s final weeks, and who attends a debate on women’s issues, he gets my vote — or would have (I am a permanent resident, so I can only sit on the sidelines and watch for a while longer).
I tried to arrange a mayoral debate where queer issues would be discussed, but I was running on gay time. I was too late to arrange a day when all candidates were free. I then turned to the idea of meeting with the top four candidates: Watson, O’Brien, Andrew Haydon and Doucet for a croissant-and-coffee Q and A session to discuss queer issues, with questions supplied by prominent queer activists.
Doucet was the only candidate who took time to meet with me, and to his credit he never squirmed when I hit him with hard questions.
Some of Doucet’s answers were not great. In fact, some of them had me squirming, as he was off the mark on some pertinent queer issues. But to be honest, I do not think any of the candidates would have done any better. The fact remains, Doucet took time out of a busy schedule to answer questions that are important to us, he was willing to give it a go, and I believe that if he were mayor he would be open to learning more and to giving back to the community.
Doucet also took time to attend a debate set up to discuss women’s issues. The debate was a grassroots initiative arranged by young women interested in what the mayoral candidates had to say. Doucet showed, but not Watson or O’Brien.
We are days away from the election, and it is pretty clear that O’Brien is not going to be reelected. Whatever happens, I wish the new mayor luck, but in the meantime, I am crossing fingers that Doucet can come out on top.
He has been a great councillor, a concerned citizen and could potentially be a good mayor. He understands the importance of having a bicycle friendly city, which brings his tally to three for three — cyclists, women and queers.
And yes, I know that Watson climbed on a bicycle and cycled down the canal path, which gives him some street cred, but in the end it was Doucet who took the time to answer our questions and to take our issues seriously — that’s top-rung material.