MP Dianne Watts celebrates with supporters after announcing her BC Liberal leadership bid. (Katya Slepian/Black Press)

Dianne Watts promises to fix ‘disconnect’ with BC Liberals’ base

Former Surrey mayor lays out plans for transportation, housing and marijuana legalization

It was watching provincial politics unfold in B.C. this spring that inspired soon-to-be-former MP Dianne Watts to put in her BC Liberal Party leadership bid.

Watts announced her long-anticipated decision to run at an ‘invite-only’ event in Surrey Sunday afternoon. There, she spoke about a disconnect between B.C. voters and the BC Liberals.

WATCH: Dianne Watts announces her bid for BC Liberal Party leadership

In a phone interview with Black Press a day later, she offered up her solution on how to fix that.

“We really need to be looking at why we lost so many seats, why there was a disconnect and why people were dissatisfied,” said Watts. She expressed concern over the “self-mandated coalition” between the NDP and the Greens, as well as the bewilderment sowed by former premier Christy Clark’s June throne speech. Critics accused Clark of simply replicating the NDP’s platform and betraying those who had voted for the BC Liberals.

“The throne speech confused a lot of people. They weren’t sure what to expect,” said Watts. “I think it’s really important that they know what the BC Liberals stand for… and that they’re part of creating that vision.”

READ: Christy Clark steps down as BC Liberals leader

Watts, who has spent the past two years as the Conservative MP for South Surrey-White Rock, said that she was “encouraged by people in [her] riding and all through the Lower Mainland and province” to run for the BC Liberals’ leadership role. A byelection has yet to be called for her riding but the last one, in Alberta, cost taxpayers $1.2 million.

“I have had overwhelming support to move forward,” she said, confirming that she will not get involved in the campaign to replace her as MP. “It’s not something I take lightly.”

Watts made her decision after “looking at the number of seats that were lost by the BC Liberals, looking at how the self-mandated coalition came together to defeat the government and Christy [Clark] stepping down and what’s been going on in the past two months when the NDP and the Greens have taken power…”

READ: All eyes on Watts

The BC Liberals lost several key ridings in Watts’ old stomping ground, leading former finance minister Mike de Jong, who is now himself mulling a leadership bid, to question why Watts wasn’t around to help the former government when they needed it.

Watts refuted any thought that a federal politician should have spent time meddling in provincial politics but did latch onto her civic past as a reason why she could reverse the Liberals’ poor fortunes in the Lower Mainland.

“I hope to offer up my skill set in terms of spending a couple of decades working within the Lower Mainland,” said Watts. “The transportation issue is absolutely key; the gridlock and traffic right now is off the charts.”

She noted that housing affordability in the region needed “very creative solutions” including different kinds of housing stock, co-op housing and making sure that those choosing to live further east had transportation to get them to the region’s downtown cores.

Watts said she was “astonished” that conversations on how to fund the Lower Mainland’s megaprojects, including the now-paused Massey Bridge and the Pattullo Bridge replacements, continue to this day.

READ: B.C. pauses Massey bridge work to conduct new review

“We’re looking at things in isolation, not as a system,” said Watts. “We have to have the federal government, provincial and local and regional governments come together and create a master plan of a system for movement of goods throughout the province. Until that is done we will continue to half these on off fights throughout the region.”

With the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities Convention kicking off in Vancouver as she spoke, Watts emphasized that no local government would be left out of the decision making process.

She lauded the province’s just-launched public consultation with cities on pot legalization but emphasized that “if marijuana is going to be sold in communities, then that money needs to stay in communities to support the sale, the regulation, the policing.”

READ: B.C. cities want more money, and more talk, on legal pot

Earlier today, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth acknowledged that a revenue sharing formula between the three levels of government had yet to be worked out.

Watts is one of a growing list of candidates running for the BC Liberals’ top spot. Vancouver-False Creek MLA Sam Sullivan, Terrace business owner Lucy Sager and Vancouver-Quilchena MLA Andrew Wilkinson have all announced their bids, with more expected to follow in the coming days.

Voting will take place Feb. 1-3. Only party members are allowed to cast a ballot. The BC Liberals will hold six debate across the province beginning on Oct. 15 in Surrey.

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