COLUMN: Dianne Watts still has a lot to offer

Former Surrey MP loses BC Liberal leadership bid

Dianne Watts gave it a good try, but she came up short in the final round of BC Liberal leadership vote-counting Saturday.

Watts ended up with 46.89 per cent of the votes, to Vancouver-Quilchena MLA Andrew Wilkinson’s 53.11 per cent.

The BC Liberals are in a time of transition after winning the most seats in the 2017 election but failing to form government. That led to the resignation of former premier Christy Clark, and the protracted leadership race which ended Saturday night.

Watts gambled a lot in an attempt to win the leadership. She gave up her seat as a Conservative MP, a seat that the party ended up losing in December’s byelection. Former BC Liberal MLA and White Rock mayor Gordon Hogg won it for the Liberals.

Watts has also given up any immediate future in politics. It is unclear if she will become active in the BC Liberal party now.

She has no specific role. She does not have a seat in the legislature, and it is unlikely that any will open up soon. While the BC Liberals need all the help they can get to reach many of the disaffected voters in Surrey, who knows if she will be part of that outreach effort?

There is a slight possibility that Watts will seek to return to Surrey politics, but unless she takes on incumbent Linda Hepner (her chosen successor) in October’s election, her only other option would be to seek a seat on council. She would do good work there, but council members do not have the profile or the clout of a mayor.

Watts still has a lot to offer, and maybe she will receive some attractive offers from the private sector. She has many connections, and can open a lot of doors. Watts did a good job as Surrey mayor. She had vision. She had a determination to bring in a different approach on issues like homelessness, health care and community amenities. She had to fight some battles early in her term as mayor with an obstructionist council – most of whom went on to become her fervent supporters. That is a rare achievement in politics.

The Surrey First slate she founded, which holds all nine seats on council, remains committed to her vision.

As time goes on, Watts may be thankful she didn’t win the BC Liberal leadership. Many in the party remain embittered by their loss of power last summer.

The fact that BC Liberal members elected Wilkinson, the oldest candidate in the group and a fierce debater and partisan, as their leader shows that the hard-core members think the NDP taking over government is simply an aberration which will soon be corrected.

The BC Liberals may end up spending more time in the political wilderness than they expect to. Wilkinson may never become premier.

Watts wanted to try to bring a different approach to the party – one of the few things she was specific about in leadership debates – and a change in approach seems less likely now.

It is certain that Watts’ many supporters in Surrey wish her well as she considers the next step in her journey.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.

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