SURREY, B.C. – An MP for Surrey, B.C., says she will step down from her federal post and dedicate her full efforts to becoming the next leader of the B.C. Liberals.
Dianne Watts made the announcement at a hotel in the Vancouver suburb on Sunday, becoming the second person to officially enter the race after B.C. MLA Sam Sullivan declared his candidacy last week.
The Liberals have a strong history to build on, but the provincial election last spring showed there’s a need to reconnect with voters, Watts said.
“We need to build on our electoral success in the rural and resource communities across this province. And we need to reach out and really listen to the urban voters right here in the Lower Mainland,” said Watts, who served as mayor of Surrey from 2005 to 2014.
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.
In a wide-ranging speech on Sunday, Watts said the party now has an opportunity to build a new future together.
Questioned after the announcement about why she stayed quiet during the provincial election last spring, Watts said she was busy doing the job taxpayers expect of her.
“I think they would be terribly offended if I left the House of Commons in Ottawa and came out to work on an election,” said the Conservative MP for South Surrey-White Rock. “And surely, I can’t imagine that my presence there would have done any difference in the outcome.”
Watts said she’s currently in discussions about when she will resign her seat, which she won in the 2015 election.
“I don’t think it’s fair that I have one foot in Ottawa and one foot here. I’m committed and I’m all in,” she said, adding that leaving the House of Commons is not a decision to be taken lightly.
Watts said she was inspired to run for the B.C. Liberal leadership by the province’s current minority NDP government, which she called “unstable” and bad for the economy.
“That’s something that I cannot idly stand by,” she said.
Watts said she intends to run for a seat in the provincial legislature, but the timing and location will depend on when a seat opens up. She noted that the Liberals have already picked a candidate for an upcoming byelection in former premier Christy Clark’s Kelowna West riding.
Both the riding and the Liberal leadership opened up last month after Clark quit politics following her government’s defeat.
Sullivan became the first person in the leadership contest when he announced his candidacy Thursday, but it’s expected that several other prominent provincial politicians will join the race.
Former cabinet ministers Mike Bernier and Andrew Wilkinson are both expected to make “special announcements” on Monday, and newly elected Vancouver-Langara Liberal Michael Lee will follow suit Tuesday.
Former transportation minister Todd Stone put out a video Sunday saying he’s “carefully considering” putting his name forward, too.
“I’m looking forward to engaging with you very soon to talk about how we can work together to build a fresh vision for British Columbia and a stronger, more united B.C. Liberal party,” he said in the video.