COLUMN: A civic shift in politics?

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Is a seismic shift in Surrey politics about to happen this year – or is it all just speculation of the type that political spin masters love to engage in?

Ever since South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale MP Russ Hiebert announced that he would not seek another term in 2015, there have been questions about who would likely replace him. No candidate has put themselves forward yet, even though there are no less than five candidates seeking a Conservative nomination in the adjacent new riding of Cloverdale-Langley City.

One suggestion has been made. That is the idea that Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts is the preferred candidate for the position.

A link between the Conservative riding executive and Watts was enough to have some suggesting that the way was being paved for her to seek the nomination, cruise to victory and be sitting at Stephen Harper’s right hand in no time flat.

There are a couple of potential flaws with that suggestion. Has anyone asked if Watts is even a Conservative party member? For all one knows, she may decide to run for the Liberals in the riding. It’s not likely she will seek the NDP nomination.

Then there’s the issue that she brought up when many people suggested she seek the B.C. Liberal leadership in 2011. At that time, she said she did not want a job that took all her spare time, because of the age of her children. While they are older, it seems unlikely that she is ready to take on a job that involves being away from home many weeks of the year. Anyone in cabinet, as some suggest she would be, would be away from home even more. The travel schedule for B.C. MPs is brutal enough as it is, with constant time changes and a lot of time spent in airports and on airplanes.

Watts thus far is playing coy, and saying she is concentrating on being the mayor of the city. She would not say if she plans to seek another term when asked earlier this month.

Of course, if she is seeking a fourth term as mayor of Surrey, she will have to make her intentions known within the next few months, but she is in a commanding position now, and can afford to keep people guessing.

She controls the civic organization Surrey First, and all eight members of council were elected with its endorsement. The support she gets from council is strong, although there are a few minor cracks in the solidarity of the organization, with Coun. Barinder Rasode saying she would not have “team support” from fellow councillors if she wanted to run for mayor.

Councillors Linda Hepner and Tom Gill have suggested they might run for mayor if Watts didn’t seek another term. If several Surrey First councillors decide to run for mayor, that would cause a split in the organization, which is really built all around Watts.

It is also possible that there might be outside interest in the mayor’s chair if Watts does not run. There have been suggestions that Surrey-Whalley MLA Bruce Ralston could run for mayor. He is a former city councillor and has a good political base in Surrey, and he is not running for the NDP leadership. There may be others waiting in the wings to run for mayor as well.

But all these things hinge on the decision that Watts makes. Anything else just leads to more speculation.

Frank Bucholz is the editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.

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