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Dianne Watts: Queen of B.C.

September 12th, 2009 · 13 Comments

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts continues to get glowing coverage from the B.C. media and favourable reviews from the public. Earlier this week, an Angus Reid poll — the one that said three-quarters of people thought Gordon Campbell should step down after this term — had Dianne Watts at the top of the list by a country kilometre of favoured choices to replace him.

She was the only current politician who was still in favour, with the rest of Campbell’s cabinet mired at the bottom with him, and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson not doing much better. The only person who came close was former deputy premier and now radio-show host Christy Clark. All of that being a sign that people are in a throw-the-bums-out mood, but somehow Dianne doesn’t come across as one of the ruling bunch that needs to be thrown out.

My friend Ian Bailey at the Globe has another big-time positive story about her today, focusing on her efforts to remake Surrey’s downtown — or should I say more accurately, to create a downtown out of nothing.

All of which continues to fuel speculation about whether Dianne will move to the provincial scene. I’ll be fascinated to see how that story turns out. As you can’t help noticing when you interview her, she is an incredibly warm, spontaneous, fun person who seems to be very comfortable with who she is and how to deal with the media, issues, everyone in Surrey from social-service agencies to the Board of Trade.

But, although all my political-pundit friends pooh-pooh me, I can’t help wondering if she really wants to do that. She’s gotten such good media because she’s brought in ideas that are new to Surrey. In Vancouver, they might not even get noticed, but in Surrey, they’re nothing short of revolutionary. She doesn’t get the scrutiny others get. (In fact, I could only find one recent item, a blog post, that had anything critical at all to say about Dianne on Laila Yule’s site here.) But that would change big-time at the provincial level.

As well, I have to wonder if the complexities of provincial party politics are really her cup of tea. She’s literally created her own private party in Surrey, a vehicle that works well for her. Heading up a provincial party means managing a lot of big egos and conflicting agendas, which some people thrive on and others decide is not worth the trouble.

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  • It is interesting to note Francis, that although we have an estimated population of over 400,00 here in Surrey, Dianne Watts won the mayor’s seat with only 51,000 votes in 2008 – hardly what one would call an overwhelming victory.It has been said many times that she wins simply because there is a lack of any other viable candidate. Should one come forward who can inspire the other 349,000 residents to actually vote, we will see how popular she really is.

    It would make one wonder what portion of the public was polled for this latest Angus Reid report, because there is a different story being told on the streets of Surrey.

    It is also worth noting where the “glowing reports” of her leadership come from, and that very few- if any- journalists who write about her actually live in, or run a business within Surrey.

    There is more to the success of a city than the $$ bottom line. Is the city safe? Can residents work here? Can they live affordably in safe accomodations? Can the residents commute easily? How many people live in poverty? I would like to see someone answer those questions before they give her glowing reports.

    Having moved to the city about 5 years ago, and witnessed firsthand the ongoing degradation of many lovely neighbourhoods during that time, I’ve often wondered how it is that she does escape the scrutiny of the media, which often fail to look beyond the political kudo’s and anecdotes, and actually drive out here to look at how this city is functioning.

    I assisted Susana da Silva with a CBC story a year ago, and all it took was a drive around with a camera crew to see what I was talking about. Nothing has changed since and in some areas the problems are worse than ever. Unfortunately, because there is a very high population here that is low-income and immigrant, these issues are never addressed and these residents feel neglected and ignored.

    I can put you, or anyone else who is interested in taking a closer ( and perhaps more realistic) look at how she is performing as mayor, in touch with a list of people who have been fighting to have these matters attended to for some time. Among them are business owners,residents and people who work here but do not live here.

    Perhaps it is time to question that which has not been questioned.

  • Jonny Quest

    Dianne Watts won the Surrey mayorality with a whopping 86% victory in 2008. Not too shabby. She’s very energetic, positive, economically-oriented but yet progressive.

    Poll topping councillor Judy Villenueve, a long time moderate New Democrat, also joined Watts’ Surrey First municipal team due to Villenueve’s high regard for Watts.

    And Angus Reid Strategies, which predicted the last provincial and federal results bang-on, also showed Watts “as the most preferred premier in BC” regardless of party affiliation. And that was with a positive +14 score.

    Compare that +14 score to Gregor Robertson’s negative -9 score or Carole James negative -13 score. In other words, Watts stands 23 points above Gregor and 27 points above Carole.

    Based upon the tea leaves, it looks like Dianne Watts has a long future ahead of her on the provincial scene.

  • The Watcher

    Frances I agree with your sentiment, that Dianne has done some good stuff but that Surrey doesn’t get the same media scrutiny to the same extent as others on the list.

    The best example of this was the recent hiring of her campaign manager as a high-level city staffer. Although it barely made a blip on the radar (and no reason that it should have) I’m pretty sure if Robertson’s campaign manager was hired it would have set off a round of breathless CKNW punditry, Charlie Smith blogging about how it relates to Raymond Louie’s secret desires to be mayor, and CTV interviewing ‘civic affairs blogger’ Mike Klassen on the politicization of city hall.

  • Jonny, I’m curious – do you actually live in Surrey? Work here? Spend a good portion of the day travelling and talking with people within the city? Because anyone who spends a reasonable amount of time here knows exactly what I am talking about.

    Ask why she wants slot machines in a residential neighbourhood that has some of the poorest residents in the city, and this, on top of a rehab/halfway house for criminals right out of jail only 2 blocks away… Ask why we have one of the largest populations living in poverty in the lower mainland….ask why petty crime is out of control to the point people dont even report car breakins because they happen so often…

    There are a million reasons to look deeper into the issues of why Surrey still has the reputation it does, and believe me, it is well earned.

    All of this aside, her ” whopping 86% victory” still totals just over 51,000 votes, in a population over 400,000. Anyone can do the math. A large victory to you perhaps – but only of a very small percentage of the residents who are eligible to vote.

    I do believe that she is positive and enegetic and economically oriented, no one disputes that. She has been referred to as a media darling repetitively.

    However, that still does not account for her ongoing inability to address very crucial issues that continue to spread throughout large areas of the city, as mentioned above.

    Perhaps it is because very few of the councillors live in the largest part of Surrey proper – most reside in the affluent South Surrey area, the mayor lives in Cloverdale – and are not faced with it everyday.

    The managing editor of our local Canwest paper, The Now, did a bit of an about face earlier this year, agreeing with most of what I have been writing about for years. Previously he thought the problems of Surrey where exaggerated and based on a lack of pride of the residents. My, how times changed him.

    You can read this at the following link:

    Now,in this editorial he focused on the city centre of Whalley, but the fact remains that much of Surrey proper is in trouble from the same problems plaguing Whalley, because the mayors efforts to clean that area up merely transported the problem into other neighbourhoods. Hey, if you are interested, I have a whole lot of on the scene photos of the innumerable shootings and occasional stabbings outside my door in the area I just moved out of – an area of nice homes and families that was fairly safe 4 years ago, but has been taken over by prostitutes, criminals and addicts. Oh, wait, don’t forget the homeless in the school park down the street….

    I’m just saying that someone needs to come out here and take a real hard look at this city, and it’s mayor. And I’m not talking about the happy developers, or the big industrial businesses getting tax breaks, or the city driven PR happy scenes designed to overcome that horrid reputation. I’m talking about what is really going on on the streets of this city, what the rcmp officers who actually deal with all of this on a day to day basis…
    Then again, what do I know? I just live here.

  • Jonny Quest

    Laila, yes I have strong roots in Surrey and I’m there every day. However, not in the lower-income Whalley area in North Surrey, which has had its historical social problems.

    That said, remember that Watts ran as the independent mayoral candidate against the well-monied Doug McCallum and his incumbent SET machine and won! It was a David v. Goliath political battle. Make no bones about it.

    The Surrey municipal political scene was something akin to that of Vancouver – NPA on the right and the SCE on the left.

    Along comes Watts and she has now created her own centrist “Vision Vancouver” municipal team.

    Again, long-time moderate New Democrat and independent councillor Judy Villeneuve jumped ship to Surey First in 2008, which was a shocker to a lot of people. Her reasons:
    Speaking by phone February 20, Villeneuve—elected three times as an independent—told the Straight, “Ultimately, I am happy with my choice.”

    “This time I have had a really positive term on council,” Villeneuve said. “Mayor Watts has been very supportive and allowed me to move forward with a lot of initiatives I had wanted to put in place, such as the homelessness and housing foundation, and she re-established the social-planning committee, so we can deal with the social issues in the city.”

    In reference to your linked article, the following statement sums it up:
    ————————————————————“And that’s one of our mayor’s strongest points – she’s not afraid of hard work. Watts knows the road ahead is long and she’s not wasting any time attacking the issues that we face in our community.”

    Sure Surrey has its social problems. No different than any other municipal jurisdiction within the Lower Mainland. Don’t kid yourself.

    As for Watts, yes I like her appoach, just as I like Gregor Robertson’s moderate approach. Still lots of work ahead.

  • Lots of work, geez, that is one way to put it. In that Globe and Mail story,she says herself that there are some areas she would like to” blow up”.
    I’ve got news for her. If she were to blow up all the problem areas, there would be nothing left of Surrey except perhaps the Sullivan station area, Morgan Creek, and .. hmmm, some parts of Clayton Heights.

    Whalley is the historical problem area for Surrey, and still is a major setback for her, as Beau says, despite the highrises and new mall. However, Newton is now called the New Whalley, Fleetwood has its issues, and even Cloverdale is .. well, iffy at best.

    The main difference between Surrey and the rest of the lower mainland municipalities is size. We are larger than the rest put together, so the issues need to be addressed differently, no? What works in New West, or Vancouver for that matter, will not work here, and does not work here.

    Why does no one hear about this? To be honest, the population living in crime stricken, poverty laden areas are not generally asked for their opinions, nor do they tend to complain. No one listens to residents who have empty wallets and poor backgrounds, and they certainly are not all in Whalley.

    If her approach is to concentrate on one area and drive the problems into another, you can have her. That is not a progressive approach in any arena. Ask anyone in Whalley about the crime sweeps that happen, where the addicts, prostitutes and the rest of the riff- raff are pushed out. Where do they go? To everyone elses neighbourhood, that is where.

    When I see actual plans that address and solve the problems, rather than simply moving them elsewhere, she will truly be a revolutionary in my books.

    In reference to the comment left by the Watcher, my point exactly. There are other stories to add to that list. When the Surrey Olympic volunteer centre failed to make the deadline, twice, it barely made the local papers and nothing was reported in the larger dailies. Further to that, the mayor signed an agreement without telling all the other councillors that she was putting the city on the hook for liability should something go wrong. I addressed the discrepancy in coverage and attention to a newsworthy story in this post:

    So Jonny, what’s up with all of this? Gregor puts a shelter in a nice area and it makes the news for weeks.

    Dianne wants to put slot machines into an area that already has a homeless shelter, a new and privately funded rehab/halfway house facility that her own staff are concerned about because of the proximity to the schools and residential homes, signs agreements that are kept from councillors and no one says BOO?

    Hello. Something is amiss here. Or is it just that people with middle and low incomes don’t matter, so no one cares to address it?

  • A. G. Tsakumis

    To put things in perspective:

    1) Laila, whose blog is one of the better written and enjoyable ones, has been a long-time “critic” of Dianne Watts. Nothing Watss will do will ever be good enough for Laila. The notion that only a small percentage of Surrey voters showed up to vote, and this somehow lessens Watts appeal or reality of her win, is a terribly pedestrian revelation, which only demonstrates Laila’s inability to separate fact from fiction: You count the votes that were cast, Laila. Not the ones you wish that were. Absurd.

    2) The “campaign manager” in question who was hired at Surrey City Hall, was NOT her campaign manager in the last election. In fact, after an extremely successful tenure at BRITCO, he distinguished himself as an extremely competent and popular manager. whose skills at developing a business have become legend.

    I called Watts as being the next Mayor before anyone did, because it was obvious to me that her skill level reached far beyond simply being Mayor of Surrey.

    She has assembled a group of great women, and Tom Gill (who is equally great) and they have transformed Surrey into the place to be in British Columbia.

    Is Surrey perfect? Of course not, but the blame Watts for decades of neglect through Bob Bose and Doug MacCallum, is a little rich, even for just a blogger.

  • You will have to excuse me Alex, but when one moves into a neighbourhood that is safe and decent, and sees that neighbourhood go to hell in a handbag directly because of the actions ( or lack thereof ) of Dianne Watts and council, one tends to become more than a little critical.

    McCallum hasn’t been in power for years, so the degradation that continues to spiral out of control , in completely new areas, can’t be blamed on him no matter how you spin it.

    This is new, and recent in terms of the development aspect of this city. Come on out and have a coffee on me, and I’ll show you some things that have nothing to do with anyone but the current mayor and council.

    Why is it ‘ terribly pedestrian’ to mention how small the voter turnout actually was ? It is big news at the provincial level when less than half the eligible voters actually get off their behinds to vote, is it not? Why would municipal elections be any different, especially in a city of this size. Certainly, it was news at the local level, because it indicates either people don’t care, were not inspired, or figured she would win regardless if they voted or not, due to the lack of any other viable opponent.

  • Blaffergassted

    This makes more sense to me.

    But I’m always willing to be surprised.

  • FBT

    To The Watcher:

    If you follow the trail of money and people related to Vision Vancouver, I think it would be you who is actually disgusted that the local media has not beaten up on Saint Gregor more.

    Follow the money and you’ll find Vision backers related to PR companies, related back to Vision and then back to some companies getting juicy contracts out of city hall.

    The Kingsway Mafia is alive and well and taking care of their friends. Funny how no one is reporting on any of that.

  • A. G. Tsakumis


    So that you get the correct opinion and not idle speculation from young Ross, who clearly, once again, hasn’t a clue what he’s talking about.

    Anyone who knows of Watts, is aware that she would NEVER run federally. Too close to her roots and two young girls to raise…she adores her daughters and Brian. Speculation of Watts run federally is by those who mindlessly shill for any kind of Vision/NDP pipedream provincially. Since Ross is to Vision what Mike Klassen is to the NPA. Go read something accurate, puleeze!

    Stop reading civicscene. Unless you like getting it wrong.

  • Blaffergassted

    I never …

  • Al Del Vecchio

    So Laila, out of 400,000 residents in Surrey all 400,000 are voters?

    51,000 is a huge majority