Alumni Profile: Jim Watson’s passion for politics

Originally published at

On the day after every mayoral election in Ottawa since the first year he won, current Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson’s tradition is to have lunch at the Tim Hortons in Carleton’s Residence Commons. Many students who approach him ask why he’s there, of all places, right after his win.

“I’m showing up as a symbol. Just because the election’s over doesn’t mean my connection with Carleton is over,” he said.

After all, Watson’s involvement with politics began at Carleton. During his time as a communications student in the early 1980s, Watson he served as the Rideau River Residence Association (RRRA) president for one year. But he wasn’t always the charismatic public speaker we see around the city today.

“I was a bit of a nerd, stuck to myself a lot of the time,” he said. “I always credit Carleton for giving me the opportunity to come out of my shell. I was pretty shy as a high school student.”

Growing up, Watson’s family moved frequently. He attended four high schools in five years. His said his four years at Carleton was the longest amount of time he had spent in one school, which is why most of his close friends today are his network of Carleton friends.

Like many students, Watson said he regretted choosing 8:30 a.m. Friday classes. “Missed a lot of those,” he admitted. He said he was grateful for the tunnels and loved residence because “I was not ready to live on my own and couldn’t cook . . . still can’t,” he said.

During his time with RRRA, Watson said the main events the association organized were Frosh Week and Panda Week.

“It was all based on drinking, and you’d barter with the three main breweries. The reps came in and would tell us what they’d give us free,” he said, laughing about how different events are today. “I don’t even drink, that was the irony!”

Watson said Panda Week and Frosh Week included keg rolling contests in the quad, scavenger hunts for cases of beer, and pub nights. He said there used to be a pub in Residence Commons where the Tim Hortons is today, called the Breeze In. Store and Arcade was the former name of the variety store in Residence Commons. To decide on a new name, Watson said they held a contest and asked students to submit names, but RRRA executives had trouble deciding on a winner.

“We had a council meeting, but for each vote there were more abstentions than yes’ so we finally had about 10 votes and we said, ‘Why don’t we just call it Abstentions?’” he said, and the name has stuck ever since.

In his final year at Carleton, Watson said he distinctly remembers being in his friend’s residence room when a panic set in about what he was going to do after graduation. He said he had written for community newspapers throughout his time at Carleton and wrote a column called “From Parliament Hill,” which earned $10 per piece. In his fourth year, Watson said he applied to hundreds of jobs throughout the country and received lots of rejections letters, even one for a management position at McDonald’s.

He eventually got a job working on Parliament Hill with a Member of Parliament, and his interest in politics blossomed. Soon after, when he first owned his own property, he realized how much the tax bill was.

He said he then thought “instead of grumbling on the sidelines, I’m going to run” for city councillor, and his political career began. Since then, he’s served as MPP of Ottawa West-Nepean riding under Dalton McGuinty and won the Ottawa mayoral election in 2010. Watson said he returns to visit Carleton often and still remembers the convenience of living in residence well, and how stressful it can be to find a job.

In his three decades since graduation, Watson said he has been on the other side of the table often, hiring students. He said he’s never once looked at a grade transcript, and the greatest piece of advice he gives to students today is to get involved. “If they’ve got a degree, they’re qualified, and I look at what they do outside of the classroom,” he said. “That’s a bigger selling point to me because it tells me about the character of the person.” – See more at:

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