Opinion Column

Surrey’s mayor looks vulnerable 0

Daniel Fontaine

By Daniel Fontaine, Dialogue with a Difference

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts has taken some political hits after the city set a record for homicides in 2013.
(FILE PHOTO/CARMINE MARINELLI/24 HOURS)

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts has taken some political hits after the city set a record for homicides in 2013. (FILE PHOTO/CARMINE MARINELLI/24 HOURS)

For Dianne Watts, 2013 was her annus horribilis. The Latin expression — meaning “horrible year” — was famously used by Queen Elizabeth during her own time of troubles. It now applies to the mayor of Surrey.

Until recently, Watts was a star was on the rise. She had been touted as Metro Vancouver’s most influential civic leader, and was widely speculated as a prospective candidate for B.C. premier.

When Christy Clark won decisively last May, however, any hopes Watts’ supporters had for her to jump into provincial politics as leader of the BC Liberals all but evaporated.

Surrey’s mayor has faced a string of political challenges this year that have made the veteran politician look vulnerable for the first time.

The death of Julie Paskall, who was beaten outside of the Newton Arena, became Surrey’s 25th homicide of 2013 — a record for murders that the mayor has explained as a four-year cycle playing itself out. The killing galvanized the community of Newton into action and citizens are demanding more than just another task force from city hall.

Rather than speak from the heart, the mayor uncharacteristically spoke with what appeared to be ill-prepared and insensitive talking points. In media interviews in response to Paskall’s death, Watts said that her city was struggling because of a lack of resources to deal with a growing community of “refugees.”

Does Watts know something the public does not? So far, RCMP investigators have yet to link the death to any particular ethnic group, income class or individual.

This appears to be just the latest gaffe for a council stumbling from issue to issue. With the notable exception of Coun. Barinder Rasode, the rest of Surrey’s civic politicians suddenly are appearing disconnected from the people who elected them to office.

When a teenager was killed last year outside a local high school, many blamed a lack of traffic safety measures, but the politicians on council buried their heads in the sand. It took weeks of media headlines and community pressure for them to finally agree to make the necessary changes to help prevent future tragedies.

Even when it comes to public transit, an issue where they have garnered tremendous support in the past, Surrey is misfiring. Watts’ direct lobbying to the federal government for infrastructure funding for light rail went over like a lead balloon with her colleagues in Metro Vancouver.

As the civic election looms ever closer, it won’t surprise anyone if Surrey voters increasingly look up the Latin translation for “time for a change.”

Daniel Fontaine is a local political commentator. Follow him on Twitter @Fontaine_D.  

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