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Former Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

When Dianne Watts retired as Surrey's popular three-term mayor, it was inevitable the federal parties would come calling. The Liberals and the Conservatives did just that.

In the end, Ms. Watts ran as a Conservative, squeaking out a win in her riding of South Surrey-White Rock only to see her party – and her shot at serving in government – collapse in defeat.

Ms. Watts claimed about 44 per cent of the vote in the riding, narrowly edging out Liberal rival Judy Higginbotham, who finished at about 42 per cent.

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"I have no regrets," said Ms. Watts, adding that she opposes running deficits and other aspects of the Liberal platform.

"I think it's going to be a good opportunity for us to do some re-evaluation with the party and look at what we can do better and how we move forward."

Ms. Watts entered the campaign with a perfect record – six times she had run for office, and six times she had been successful. She served three terms on Surrey council and three more as mayor, taking the fast-growing city's helm in 2005.

Ms. Watts was credited with transforming Surrey from its sometimes rough-and-tumble image to a multicultural, economically vibrant city. She was at one point viewed as a potential successor to B.C. premier Gordon Campbell and picked up more than 80 per cent of the vote in her final mayoral campaign.

Ms. Watts called her Monday win "bittersweet," given her party's overall defeat.

"But you know what? I always look for the silver lining in everything," she told reporters shortly after the win. "And I think it's an opportunity to really review what's going on with the party. I think it's an opportunity to really evolve and change."

Ms. Watts was not initially expected to face a serious challenge. Outgoing Conservative MP Russ Hiebert won South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale, the new riding's predecessor, by more than 30 percentage points in 2011.

Joy Davies, the Liberal Party's original challenger to Ms. Watts, dropped out of the race in September after comments surfaced in which she suggested marijuana was harmless to children and reduces domestic violence.

Ms. Higginbotham, a former Surrey councillor who served alongside Ms. Watts, stepped in and took Ms. Davies' place.

Pollsters had in recent weeks suggested the Liberals had a chance to take the riding as part of a potential party surge.

Ms. Watts said such polls can sometimes push individuals to work harder.

"This is my seventh election and I've never taken anything for granted," she said.

Ms. Watts was criticized during the campaign for a flyer that promised the Conservatives would "fight jihadist terrorists at home and abroad" and warned voters "will not feel secure in your bedrooms."

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Ms. Watts said the flyer was generated and mailed by the party in Ottawa. She said there was no intention to use scare tactics and the message was that the Conservative government was prepared to help the people of Syria.

Ms. Higginbotham accused Ms. Watts of fear-mongering and said she was creating the impression there were terrorists in the midst. Ms. Higginbotham said the rhetoric seemed "out of character" for Ms. Watts.

Bruce Hayne, a Surrey councillor who addressed the few dozen attendees at Ms. Watts' victory party, said it's clear the Conservative Party will need rebuilding.

"It's going to need rejuvenation, it's going to need new life. And I can't think of anybody better to send to Ottawa than Dianne Watts," he said.

Ms. Watts, when asked if she had any interest in running for party leader, indicated she hadn't given it much thought.

"Well, I just got elected," she said. "I've got no thoughts on that at this point in time, thanks."

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