Dianne Watts, the former mayor of British Columbia's second largest city who has been courted for years by political parties provincially and federally, has announced she hopes to run for the federal Conservatives in next year's election.
Dianne Watts led Surrey for nine years as mayor and was on council for eight years prior to that. She said Wednesday night she has spent "many months of reflection" thinking about what she wants to do next. She said international strife, from the conflict in Ukraine, to the violence of the Islamic State, prompted her to consider moving to federal politics.
"It impacts all of us," Watts said in an interview. "Canada really needs to play a significant role. . . We have a moral obligation."
She said when she considered who would do the best job of leading the country on such issues, she concluded it was Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Watts said she has always considered herself a small-c conservative so the party was a natural home for her.
She will seek the nomination in South Surrey in a riding being vacated by Russ Hiebert, who was elected in the riding in 2004 and has maintained a low profile. He announced earlier this year he would not seek re-election next October. Watts said she would not be acclaimed in the riding, but she said no one else has signed up to run and nominations close next week.
Watts announced in April she would not seek a fourth term as mayor. She has been hugely popular with residents of her municipality, which has transformed its image as a bedroom suburb with a crime problem to a dynamic, multi-cultural and environmentally-focused city that likes to consider itself B.C.'s second metropolis.
Almost immediately after she announced she was moving on, there were suggestions she would run federally for the Conservatives. She was also included in the list of likely candidates to replace former Liberal premier Gordon Campbell, though she declined to run. And when it looked as though Christy Clark would not win the provincial election for the Liberals, Watts' name was floated once again as a potential replacement.
Watts was first elected as mayor in 2005 after she broke away from the party that had run Surrey for the previous decade. She campaigned as an independent against the incumbent Doug McCallum. She won and, after some initial tussling with other members of her original party, she persuaded them and more left-leaning councillors to join her in a new party called Surrey First.
McCallum is now running for his old job against the Surrey First candidate. On Wednesday night, he issued a tweet thanking Watts for her service.
"I wish you the best in future pursuits and look forward to working with you after Nov. 15," the date of the upcoming civic election.
Watts said aside from international issues, she is interested in advancing Surrey's interest on the national stage on matters of transit in the Lower Mainland and of rail safety.
Former Surrey mayor Doug McCallum said he wished Ms. Watts well in her federal ambitions.
"She's put in a lot of years as a mayor and a councillor," said Mr. McCallum, who was defeated by Ms. Watts nine years ago.
He said that if the voters of South Surrey-White Rock elect Ms. Watts she would bring a lot of experience in Surrey issues to Ottawa.
One senior federal Liberal in B.C, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday night he wasn't surprised at the news because the word in political circles was Ms. Watts was going Tory as well as running in that riding.