Jim Watson does not deserve our praise

This week Gloucester-Southgate Councillor Diane Deans introduced a motion at council for the City to “look at including the role of a Council Representative Special Liaison for Women’s Issues and a Women’s Bureau to provide a gender lens on our policies and practices in the 2019 Governance report.” A vote in favour would be a show of support to the women of Ottawa, recognition that they - we - experience the world differently than men. A vote in favour would, presumably, imply a desire for this to actually come to fruition.

The motion was passed unanimously.

The mayor was praised.

This praise is undeserved.

Mayor Jim Watson is on record saying that he is not supportive of either the Special Liaison or the Women’s Bureau because they would be costly and add to the bureaucracy he’s created at City Hall. Instead, he has said that he would rather the money go towards improving gender equality. 

But of course, these statements were made a mere three weeks prior to the vote, giving Ottawa’s very busy mayor time to consider arguments in favour of these new women-focused initiatives. Watson now says he supports a Special Liaison, but despite voting in favour of it, still has trouble grappling with what the bureau itself would do.

Why the change? Appearing on CBC’s All in a Day, Watson says that in learning about the motion from staff, he discovered that supporting the motion would not actually create the bureau and liaison roles, and instead provide an avenue to examine their value, thus making them safe for him to vote for as they don’t contribute to the bureaucracy while allowing him to provide a smokescreen of support for women and women’s issues.

Deans, however, has been very clear in detailing what the role of the women’s bureau would be. She has provided written details about how a gender lens on city policies would be beneficial. She has appeared on television providing real life examples of how this would impact women in Ottawa. She has even provided Canadian and international examples of how these initiatives work. But it seems as though these efforts have been for naught if the mayor is still unable to grasp what the purpose would be. Watson does not seem to trust the experiences of women (or even evidence-based policy).

In voting to support Deans’ motion to look at creating a women’s liaison and bureau, Watson is doing the absolute bare minimum to support the issue. The prolific tweeter did not voice his support in advance of the vote, instead only opting to say how proud he was to support it after the vote and when he could post a photo amongst several women. The political calculus is entirely transparent.

By congratulating Mayor Watson, you are allowing him to get away with doing the literal least he could do. He did not go above and beyond to really try to understand what the bureau would do in advance of the vote; he saw an opportunity to take the quick and easy political win without any tangible action supported. In any other job, doing the bare minimum would garner you a “meets expectations”, not a congratulations. Congratulating him supports his mediocrity. Congratulating him allows him to continue to be a fake feminist ally.

This is the ‘Pedestal Effect’, where men are showered with praise for doing the most basic show of human decency and women (like Deans, myself and others) doing the same are considered to be nags, asking for too much, man-haters, and worse. Men get ally cookies for showing up and women get threats.

As mayor, it is Jim Watson’s job to do what is best for the city. In this case, it was to unequivocally support the examination of a women’s bureau and to elevate the voice of one of the four women on council. That is the least he could do. It does not warrant congratulations. Save the champagne popping emojis for when the bureau and liaison are actually created.