EDITORIAL: Gambling on leadership

BC Liberals are to pick their new party leader this weekend

Dianne Watts has taken a huge gamble in running for BC Liberal leader – and the success of that gamble will only be measured after party members’ votes are counted and the results announced this weekend.

The former Surrey mayor can’t escape the fact that, in making her bid, she jumped the federal Conservative ship halfway through her first term as MP for South Surrey-White Rock, allowing a Liberal candidate to serve area voters for the first time federally since the early-1950s.

And while no grumbles have been heard from federal Conservative officials, Watts should not be surprised if she has raised resentment in the area – on all sides of the political spectrum – for what some might consider an abandonment of her commitment to serve constituents.

At the same time, Watts still seems to be counting on support in Surrey, based largely on her record as mayor from 2005 to 2014.

During the final leadership debate last week, Watts, challenged as to whether she will run for a seat provincially even if she doesn’t win the leadership, said, “Yes, absolutely… There are a lot of seats in Surrey. There’s a lot of seats in the Lower Mainland, and you know what, we have to win them back.”

In the same debate she was attacked repeatedly by other candidates for answering policy questions in generalities rather than specifics, and a platform that Vancouver-Quilchena MLA Andrew Wilkinson referred to as “a plan to make a plan to think about a plan.”

Watts’ defence, rather than going into more detail, was simply to accuse her competitors of playing “gotcha politics.”

It would be tempting for Watts’ opponents to characterize her bid for leadership as style over substance, relying on the power of personality, rather than facts, to dazzle voters. But anyone who observed her years on Surrey council has to recognize that Watts is a canny politician indeed, one who – as she points out – knew how to build a coalition and bring together diverse talents in managing a difficult mandate.

It’s clear that Watts relishes a high profile politically – certainly a higher one than she was afforded in the Opposition in Ottawa – and some may see this as a liability, rather than an asset, for leadership.

But, in the final analysis, a certain charisma may just carry the day over other politicians who, while passionate, may appear lacklustre in comparison.

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