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Strategy games in Ottawa’s race for mayor

The Ottawa municipal election is only a couple of weeks away, and the race for mayor is only now starting to get interesting.

Well, more specifically, the strategy behind the campaigns is getting more interesting and creative. The strategy coming out of some campaigns has been skillfully executed, while other candidate’s strategy is similar to a car accident; you know you shouldn’t look, but feel as though you must.

Now let’s be honest, although there are arguably four contenders for mayor, the race is really down to Jim Watson and Larry O’Brien. Clive Doucet and Andy Haydon both have had amazing careers serving the people of Ottawa, but this time around it’s really down to the top two. And watching the campaign strategies from both campaigns this week is quite telling, and its only Tuesday!

Let’s start with the good. Jim Watson proposed a $14 million dollar boost into social housing in Ottawa. This is not usually a huge issue that is covered at the municipal level, but Watson picks up the issue anyways.

This was a brilliant move on the part of Watson for several reasons. First, it is a growing issue in Ottawa and city hall. With this initiative, Watson starts looking less like a candidate for mayor, and more like a future mayor telling Ottawa his ideas. Second, once he picks up the social housing issue, he owns it. If any other candidate tries to run with it, especially O’Brien, they are tagged as following Watson’s lead.

Lastly, no one is going to come out against the funding of social housing two weeks before the election. Watson’s announcement had glowing reviews in all the local papers on Monday morning, with hardly a whiff of dissent. Say all the bad things you want about Watson, (and trust me I could say a lot) but this was a great move for him. The only way he can screw this up is if he breaks the promise should he win the election. If he is anything like his former boss, this is most likely.

Now onto the bad. O’Brien’s week didn’t start off that great. The same Monday papers that had good stories about Watson’s weekend announcement, reported the 20 points O’Brien was trailing Watson by in the latest poll. As well, it reported on O’Brien’s vague proposal to spruce up Sparks street. Watson and the media in general was able to jump on this, criticizing that the plan was nothing more than an idea. So now Watson has the news cycle and the poll release working in his favour. But then O’Brien does something totally unexpected.

During a meeting with the editorial board of the Ottawa Citizen, O’Brien says that the first two years of his term “was a complete disaster”, and then went on to apologize to the people of Ottawa. I don’t know who O’Brien’s campaign manager is, but he should be fired. Having the candidate confirm what the public already knows is the same as accepting defeat. O’Brien might as well have said, “please for the love of everything that is holy and just, please do not vote for me for fear I will continue down my path of disaster.”

O’Brien’s campaign team is definitely getting desperate; if O’Brien apologizes and gets people feeling sorry for him, maybe he will be able to hold onto his job. This may be the equivalent of a Hail Mary pass, but I think in this instance, they threw too far. They were probably spooked by the poll released that morning and went a little overboard. It made their campaign look reactionary and without direction. Worse, it did not achieve its intended goal of painting O’Brien in a different light.

So what does this all mean? Typically in politics, those that win the strategy games win the whole match. If the past couple of days is any indication, Watson will be pretty happy a couple of weeks from now. Is that what is best for Ottawa? Only time will tell.


About Greg Markey

Greg is a social media and digital marketing consultant who loves writing about business, technology, innovation and startups. He holds a degree in political science and history from St. Francis Xavier University, as well as a diploma in Journalism from Algonquin College. He lives in Edmonton with his wife and three kids..


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