COLUMN: Watts’ popularity evident in aftermath of accident

Surrey Mayor unlikely to have trouble getting re-elected this fall

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts spoke to members of the media last week, as she continues to recover at home from a serious fall from a horse.

The accident at 108 Mile House left her with two cracked vertebrae.

Her candid comments about the accident, which happened in late July, are likely to endear her even more to voters. She is a shoo-in to win her third term as mayor in November, and the most interesting thing about the mayor’s race will be who wishes to challenge her.

Watts has a lock on voter loyalty in Surrey, which is unusual. People like her. They like her accessibility and candour, and they like what they see taking place in the city. They appreciate her drive and her outspoken vision to make Surrey a better place.

It’s been particularly instructive to see some of the comments about her in letters to the editor about the latest suggestion that South Surrey join White Rock. One letter writer notes she (the writer) had at one time supported such an idea, but no longer.

“I like the way South Surrey has grown and revitalized, thanks to our mayor,” writes Patricia Seggie of South Surrey.

Watts, of course, is a South Surrey resident and has many connections to that part of the city. But she is definitely a mayor for the entire community. She has many strong connections in the various ethnic communities that make up a large proportion of the city’s residents. She has made many efforts to talk to residents of all areas of Surrey.

She is well-respected by both provincial Liberals and NDPers. She has managed to bring together most of Surrey council, with the notable exception of former mayor and longtime councillor Bob Bose. Council works together in a very harmonious fashion – something that has been almost never seen in Surrey in more than 50 years.

If Watts was all sizzle and no steak, as the saying goes, she would have flamed out by now. She has been mayor for almost six years. Surrey residents have had plenty of chances to see if her ideas are sensible, and see what they have done for the city.

A year ago, she was being touted as a good candidate to replace Gordon Campbell as premier, and she gave the idea some serious thought. However, she elected to stay in Surrey, where she says her work isn’t done. She also deliberately chose to spend more time with her family, which most Surrey residents applaud.

As she was recovering from the horse accident, at first in Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops and later at Peace Arch Hospital, she was deluged with greetings from well-wshers. This isn’t surprising, as Canadians have always been sympathetic to their political leaders when they suffer health setbacks.

At present, they are very concerned about NDP leader Jack Layton’s latest fight with cancer. But go back to the 1990s, when Bloc Quebecois leader Lucien Bouchard had a leg amputated due to flesh-eating disease. The outpouring of support for him from all across the country was genuine and heartfelt.

Watts was the recipient of similar good wishes, and she says they were very gratefully received.

“That was really very comforting to me in hospital, with all the well-wishes and thoughts and prayers,” Watts said. “That really helps a lot.”

The mayor is undergoing therapy and hopes to be back at council when it resumes meeting in September. In the meantime, her biggest challenge is having to sit still more than she would like to. But she accepts the importance of proper healing.

Surrey residents wish her a speedy recovery and look forward to seeing her back at work as soon as possible.

Frank Bucholtz writes Fridays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

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