Mayor says workers will return post-pandemic: ‘Downtown Ottawa will not be tumbleweeds’

OTTAWA — Mayor Jim Watson says he’s “bullish” on Ottawa’s downtown economy recovering, and believes thousands of government workers will return to office towers in the downtown core in 2021.

“I think most people if given the chance would like to escape their home and come back to work,” Watson said.

In a year end interview with CTV News Ottawa, Watson insisted “you’re not going to see tumbleweeds in downtown Ottawa,” arguing that the capital is poised to rebound once it is safe to gather and come back to work.

Tech giant Shopify announced early in the pandemic they would be permanently vacating their office tower on Elgin Street, with thousands of high tech employees permanently working for home. Shopify will maintain a smaller office space in the downtown core.

But the mayor doesn’t believe that will be significant trend, especially in the public sector.   

Watson wrote to the federal government asking for their plans for a safe return to work in early December, and suggested the City of Ottawa is targeting early spring for a possible return for workers to City Hall.

“We’ve said for the city of Ottawa that we’ll probably re-examine by March if people can come back to work here at City Hall,” Watson said.

The mayor also suggested the office environment might be a more productive way to operate.

“Ultimately we don’t want to push people if it’s not safe, but are you more productive at home without a supervisor, or less productive?”

Looking back on an unprecedented year in politics, Watson admitted like many other people in Canada, he was somewhat naïve about the impact of the pandemic.

“We thought ‘It’s containable, controllable.’ Then it just went out of control,” he said.

Watson also pointed out that Ottawa’s rate of infection had been one of the worst in the country during the second wave. It is now one of the best.

Watson also said the attraction of working from home has worn off for most people. 

“I think a lot of people will say it has been nice for a few months working in your flannel pyjamas, but you miss the camaraderie, you want to get back downtown…and that has a ripple effect, on ridership on trains and buses, but also in the shops and restaurants in the downtown core.”

You can watch the full year-end interview with Mayor Jim Watson Tuesday night on CTV News at 6.

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