By Surbhi Gogia
Former Surrey mayor and Conservative MP Dianne Watts, recently announced her bid for the next leadership of the B.C. Liberal Party. After serving as the mayor of Surrey for three consecutive terms, Watts made the jump to federal politics only in 2015. The former Conservative MP for South Surrey–White Rock and the party’s recently-named employment, workforce development and labour critic, Watts decision to run for the Liberal leadership comes in the wake of recent election results in the province. No political party emerged from the May election a clear winner, but the New Democrats and Greens reached an agreement that allowed for a minority NDP government and the Liberals were ousted from power after 16 years in office. “The party had stopped listening, we had lost our connection and we saw the result of that at the polls,” she said. A second-generation Canadian with Ukrainian and Scottish roots, Dianne’s connection to the BC Liberal Party goes back 21 years, when she managed the successful election campaign of family friend, Bonnie McKinnon in Cloverdale.
She made the official announcement to join the leadership race at a rally in Surrey. “Today we embark on a journey together, a journey to create a new vision for British Columbia,” she told the gathering in the rally. In an interview with Desi Today, she elaborates more on this “new vision” and her future campaign.
Q) Please tell us something about your family, education and how you decided to join the politics?
A) I decided to enter public life 21 years ago because I felt strongly about contributing to my community and doing everything I could to make my community better. Even though my two daughters were young at the time, I felt that I could bring a perspective to civic politics in Surrey, where I chose to run as a city councillor, that was lacking at the time.
Q) You were raised in BC. What does BC mean to you?
- I love this province. Not only was I born here and raised here, my family has deep roots across BC. My mother was born in Ocean Falls, my grandfather on my mother’s side worked at the cannery in Prince Rupert and my grandfather on my dad’s side worked in the coal mines in Nanaimo. My father grew up on Vancouver Island in the small community of Zeballos and my parents lived in Vanderhoof, and my brother and his family lived in Invermere. I graduated high school in Kelowna, and raised my family in Surrey. This province is my home.
Q) From a city councillor to a mayor, to a member of parliament. How has been your journey so far? What kind experience do you bring in your race to the Liberal leadership?
- I think that one of the greatest strengths I bring to this race is a broad level of experience. I’ve seen how government can affect people in a very real way at the civic level, I’ve run the third largest government in British Columbia during my three terms as mayor of Surrey, and as an MP I’ve been able to represent my constituents at the national level. What I can tell you is that regardless of the level of government, people want the same things – they want to be heard, they want a say in their government and they want leaders who have a vision that is about helping families in their day to day lives. I think that my proven track record of listening and applying common sense solutions to issues is what sets me apart from the rest of the candidates.
Q) Please tell us about your decision to run for BC leadership. From a MP representing Conservative Party to Liberal leadership — What prompted the decision?
- Like everyone I watched as the BC Liberal party lost eleven seats, ten in the lower mainland and I knew that I had to come back to BC and do what I could to reconnect our party with the people of this province. The party had stopped listening, we had lost our connection and we saw the result of that at the polls. The BC Liberals is a party of free enterprisers and I believe that the positions I’ve taken and things I’ve achieved in my 21-year career in public life demonstrates that I can reconnect the party, reconnect it to the people of British Columbia and return a stable Liberal government for the good of all the people of this province.
Q) When you announced your leadership for BC Liberals you talked about “creating a new Vision” for BC. Please tell us something more, what that vision is or how it is going to look like?
- I think it’s about listening to people and making a vision based on the actual wants and needs of people in each community – not telling them what we think they feel or want or need.
Q) What according to you went wrong in the last election for BC Liberals despite the fact the BC’s economy was topping the chart in the country?
- We stopped listening. As I travel this province talking to British Columbians it’s very clear that people felt a disconnect with the former government.
- Q) How far housing crisis was the reason to affect the election results?
- I think that a significant number of things contributed to the election results, but the fact of the matter is we lost eleven seats, ten of them in the lower mainland. Affordability is a real issue facing British Columbians and we need to work to address it.
Q) What is your take on the housing crisis in this province and what approach would you like to take to resolve the issue?
- Affordability for families is a key issue in this province, particularly in the lower mainland, and it needs to be a key priority. Unfortunately, despite what some people may say, there are no easy fixes to this issue. To address affordability in the lower mainland we need to talk about transportation, and we need to get a comprehensive plan to get people moving across the region so that people have realistic options to live across the lower mainland and Fraser Valley but still be able to work in the urban centres of Vancouver or Surrey for example.
Q) How has been your campaign going so far? What are some of the major platforms?
- It’s been fantastic. I’ve been travelling the province riding by riding listening to British Columbia and I’m hearing about issues in communities in every area of the province. I truly enjoy meeting people, it’s been very fulfilling to have received such gracious receptions in each community. Right now I’m doing something that I think government had really stopped doing – listening. I’m hearing over and over again that British Columbians felt disconnected from the past government and they want to reconnect and come together. As far as major issues, one of my top priorities is proportional representation – we all need to come together to defeat this legislation that, if it passes, will create more unstable minority governments which in turn sends a negative signal to global investors that BC is a bad place to invest.
Q) What is your message to the people of BC?
- I want British Columbians to join with me in a new vision for this province. I want to build on our strengths and make this province even better to live and raise our families. For me, this leadership race is about listening to the people of this province and building a platform of issues based on them telling us what their communities want and need, rather than elected officials telling them. So I guess my message is that if I have the opportunity to be the leader of the BC Liberal party I will listen and represent them as we work together to restore a free enterprise party to government in this province – because we need to restore stability and address core issues facing BC families.