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prise given his tumultuous time in office that included a trial on flimsy and obscure Criminal Code charges (of which he was rightfully acquitted after chewing through over $600,000 of his own money in legal fees and ex- penses) stemming from the 2006 election campaign and not achieving his zero-means-zero, four-year tax freeze promise that swept him into the Mayor’s chair over then- Mayor Bob Chiarelli in November of 2006. It was this failure on taxes that the Watson campaign

repeatedly hammered home as the “ballot questions” to voters for nine straight months. In every public appear- ance and media hit for the five months from the date he registered on February 1st

clared he would seek re-election on June 30th

until the day Larry O’Brien de- , Jim Watson

stuck to this message. In fact, in his news release welcom- ing O’Brien to the race, Watson stated: “This election will be a referendum on his performance as mayor over the last four years.”

social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, etc to ID this vote and pull them out on Election Day. The other notable candidate was last-day entry and for-

mer regional Chairman Andy Haydon who ran a single- issue campaign in favour of a bus transitway tunnel and system extension over the LRT and tunnel option that was approved during O’Brien’s term in office and also supported by his main challenger, Jim Watson. Mr. Hay- don received 7% of the vote that no doubt ate into the same fiscally conservative base in which Larry O’Brien was counting on support. Lesson #6: Single-issue or alleged fringe candidates can do significant damage if not called out as such early-on. While the above-noted dynamics all played a role in the

Ottawa campaign, the single most important factor was organization, organization and yes, organization. The Watson campaign ran a three-staged campaign over nine months: listening in the spring, recruiting and

Similar to other elections across Ontario – not to mention the recently completed mid-terms south of the 49th parallel – the tide of change grew to tsunami-esque proportions. The message from voters was crystal clear: after four tumultuous years voters wanted a more measured and ma- ture performance from a much younger (on average) council contingent.

Despite their best efforts to position significant accom- plishments of Larry O’Brien’s term – including a fully- funded and ambitious transit plan, groundbreaking and commencement of construction on a new convention centre, a 3P to rebuild and revitalize the 40-acre Lansd- owne Park, and provincial approval and recognition of the Ottawa river sewage cleanup plan – as Act 1 of a two-act play which would include a bold new vision for smart growth in the downtown core and the suburbs, Team O’Brien could never change the channel on the ballot question. Lesson #4: If the election is about you, nine times out of ten, you’re going to lose. Similar to other Mayoral contests across the province, the Ottawa Mayoral race attracted its share of candidates: 20 in total. However, only Jim Watson and Larry O’Brien were in contention to win. Nonetheless Capital Ward councillor Clive Doucet’s

result of 15% reflected the core strength of progressives and left-of-centre voters who supported Doucet’s vision and passion for new urbanism. To his credit, his was the only campaign that actually used social media, most no- tably his Twitter stream, to engage voters in a conver- sation. In fact, some argue that this activity combined with his steady presence (usually without notes) in sev- eral Mayoral debates resulted in his impressive final vote numbers given that he was at single digits a mere three weeks earlier. Lesson #5:

Social media is more

than a broadcast mechanism; it is an engagement and conversation tool. In future campaigns we will see (or in future articles in this publication) how smart campaigns can integrate their

scripting in the summer and executing and closing – signs, simultaneous regional canvasses, on-line channels, paid- media in both official languages, tour strategy, key com- munity sub-campaigns, and the list goes on – from late- August until E-Day. And with due respect to all other campaigns, none of them came even close to Team Watson in terms of volunteers, money and most importantly, the discipline of consistent execution. Lesson #7: As the saying goes, if you fail to plan then you plan to fail. There is no substitute for a strategic and adaptive campaign battle plan. This plan allowed Jim Watson to frame media cover-

age and public debate in the key seven week period from Labour Day until October 25th virtually unscathed and unchallenged.

and sail to victory, And not sur-

prisingly, in the weeks that have elapsed since his vic- tory last month, Jim Watson has predictably carried on his discipline of cautious but steady execution through his transition process until he takes the oath of office on December 1st


Walter Robinson’s political experience spans over 25 years of active campaigns and political involvement including a stint as Larry O’Brien’s chief of staff from December 2006 to July 2007, as the Conservative candidate in Ottawa-Orleans in the 2004 federal election and six years as the Federal Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation from 1997 to 2003. His writings can be found at Professionally, he is a Principal with Tactix Government Rela- tions and Public Affairs (, a full-service firm based in Ottawa.

December 2010 | Campaigns & Elections 25

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