Dianne Watts– fresh from her announcement Sunday that she will resign as Conservative MP for South Surrey-White Rock MP to run for leader of the BC Liberals – says she doesn’t see any conflict between federal conservative political values and her bid to helm the provincial party.
“The BC Liberals are a coalition of people from across the political spectrum,” the former Surrey mayor told Peace Arch News Monday. “That includes people who are small ‘l’ liberals and big ‘l’ Liberals, and small ‘c’ conservatives and big ‘c’ Conservatives, and everything in-between.
“If people look at the work and direction myself, as mayor, and council took, they’ll see that it was very well-rounded on issues like homelessness, or arts and culture, or social networks… It wasn’t a question of ‘is this liberal?’ or ‘is this conservative?’ – it was a question of what needed to be done… I don’t like identity politics. In doing work like this, you always find commonality – there’s always room for consensus and compromise. Identity politics is always divisive – although it works well for other politicians criticizing your policies.”
Watts said she didn’t make the decision to seek the BC Liberal leadership – which will be settled by a vote of party members on Feb. 1, 2 and 3 – without first consulting her support base among local Conservatives.
“The very first thing I did was to talk to quite a few of my constituents,” she said. “I had a number of people encouraging me to run, but it isn’t something I take lightly. I wanted to make sure I got a lot of feedback, and that’s why it took time to make a decision. But I did talk to a fair amount of people and the encouragement I got was phenomenal.”
Later Monday, Watts said she “had overwhelming support to move forward,” confirming that she will not get involved in the campaign to replace her.
Watts said her effective resignation as MP is “imminent.”
“I’m working it out with the (federal Conservative) party. We’re just finalizing it, tieing up a few details.”
Watts laughed when reminded that she was quoted after her election to federal office in 2015 as saying “I never have a Plan B.”
“I don’t have to resign my seat as a member of Parliament (to run for the BC Liberal leadership),” she noted, “but, for me, I have to go all-out. It’s important for me to devote 100 per cent of my time to it. It did not feel right, for me, having one foot back in Ottawa. I have to dedicate myself to it 100 per cent.”
Watts said she does not know when a byelection for her federal seat will take place. So far, she said, she has not heard of anyone expressing interest in running for the seat she will vacate.
Watts was adamant that she will not endorse a candidate to replace her.
“I will not support or back any candidate,” she said. “I’m going to totally stay out of it.”
She agreed that winning her seat in 2015 was a narrow victory in what has been traditionally considered a ‘safe’ Conservative riding (Watts won 24,934 votes, or 44 per cent, to the 23,495, or 41.5 per cent received by her nearest competitor, federal Liberal Judy Higginbotham).
“I have personally never taken anything for granted, and whoever runs, for whatever party, shouldn’t,” she said. “They’ll have to work hard.”
Watts said she does not yet know which riding she will choose to run in as a provincial politician. The choice of a North Surrey venue (the Sheraton, Guildford) for the formal announcement of her bid was simply a matter of convenience for “people coming in from throughout the Lower Mainland and elsewhere in B.C.” for the event, she said.
The BC Liberals will also have to work hard to rebuild trust and connection with voters in the wake of this year’s provincial vote, she said.
“It was clearly shown in the polls that there was a disconnect; that people were dissatisfied with what was done.”
Watts also said she saw a lapse in leadership in the post-election Throne Speech – delivered by fromer premier Christy Clark – “in terms of consistency of vision.”
“It’s good to lay out a map so that people know what you stand for and what direction you want to go in,” she said.
Of her time in Ottawa, Watts said she has no regrets.
“What I will miss will be my colleagues on both sides of the house; the people I worked with and the relationships that developed over time.
“I was very happy with the work we did on infrastructure, on urban affairs, public safety and national security.”
But Watts acknowledged that wheels move slowly in Ottawa, which didn’t always jibe with her “hands-on” style as a politician.
“It’s a very different level of government, more removed from the general public,” she said.
“I’ve always been hands-on. When you come from local government, you’re on the front line, you’re hands-on every day.
“That’s one piece I did miss, and that’s why I’m entering into the race provincially. Having been born and raised in British Columbia and having had the encouragement I’ve received, I think this is where I need to be.”