Mayor of Surrey to Member of Parliament – By Ray Hudson

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 Dianne Watts, Member of Parliament in her South Surrey office. Photo: Ray Hudson

Dianne Watts MP South Surrey White Rock

 Dianne Watts, Member of Parliament in her South Surrey office. Photo: Ray Hudson
Dianne Watts, Member of Parliament in her South Surrey office. Photo: Ray Hudson

It’s been one year since the Trudeau Liberals pushed the Conservative government into opposition, and along with it the newly elected Conservative MP for White-Rock South-Surrey Dianne Watts. For the former Mayor of Canada’s 12th largest city it’s a major change of scene to now be sitting in the front bench of the official opposition.

At the one-year mark of her election, we spoke about the changes and her impressions of the transition from municipal politician and big city Mayor to Member of Parliament.

Dianne Watts: It’s definitely a transition. Everything about it is different. The issues are very different as are the governance and processes and the House of Commons is at the other end of the country. To relate one to the other is like apples and oranges.

Ray Hudson: When you were mayor you set the agenda and then you carried it out. As an MP you don’t get to do that anymore. How did you deal with that?

Dianne Watts: I was absolutely prepared for that. Again, the issues are very different. When you’re dealing with community building, neighbourhoods and city planning, or public safety on the community level, it’s a very hands-on process. Federally, I’m part of the national caucus and have every opportunity for input, as well as being in the shadow cabinet, as the critic for National Infrastructure and Communities. I’m a member of the Public Safety and National Security framework, and I sit in on the Human Rights Committee. The issues are much more national and global in nature because what happens in BC is very different than what happens in Newfoundland. You really have to understand that communities are different right across the country. There was some preparation for this as I sat on the Big City Mayors caucus so we got to hear a lot of the urban affairs as well as the issues of the rural communities right across Canada. When we hear from Members of Parliament from all across the country, I realized how different our country is.

Ray Hudson: What was it like when you sat down in the Commons for the first time, took that deep breath and said I’ve made it?

Dianne Watts: There has only ever been around three thousand people elected to the House of Commons, and being in that place, that institution of Parliament, it was awe inspiring for sure. When you’re sitting in the front row and observing both sides of the house, it’s a very different way of looking at how we govern and are governed. It was a little overwhelming.

Ray Hudson: In your role as critic of Infrastructure and community, your first question in the House was to ask PM Trudeau how he was going to be able to deliver on his infrastructure promises.

Dianne Watts: The whole premise of the Liberals getting elected was around infrastructure, job creation and all of these things he’d (Trudeau) promised to the people of Canada. In my role as critic I have to determine what that does look like, because the Conservatives had a very good track record. We had over 7,500 projects built and one of the largest infrastructure programs for public infrastructure, in the G7. This was all rolled out as the cornerstone of their campaign, so now we’re a year into it and we can see what exactly has been done.

They announced all of the projects that we had already approved, which is fine because that’s what the new government does. They’ve repackaged a few things, like our Build Canada Fund, our Green infrastructure fund, all of which we had in place. And then they added billions of dollars to the debt. They just had an announcement last week adding another $32 billion to the debt, and it’s all back-end loaded and goes out eleven years. When you look at getting the economy going, job creation and stimulating the economy has be front-end loaded because you want to get people to work.
Out of all the projects announced, there are only eight projects that are actually under construction, that have shovels in the ground. When they say it’s in process, that’s true. There’s paper work and design work that’s being done, but we want to talk about jobs and shovels in the ground. So the parliamentary budget officer released a report and there was not one new, net full-time job created. That is from an independent parliamentary budget officer that looks at all of the things that are being undertaken. You look at how much has been spent overseas, which is $7.1 billion, another $2.9 billion that’s been committed to an Asian infrastructure bank for infrastructure built in Asia, $15 billion being pulled out of announced projects to go into this new infrastructure bank, and from rural and northern communities, from public transportation and now this new infrastructure bank that’s being developed. We’ve already got P3 Canada, they already have a track record, the system is already set up. It’s unnecessary. It’s reinventing the wheel and you’re repackaging it.

Ray Hudson: What are some of the issues that concern you with respect to public safety and national security?

Dianne Watts: National security is really something that I really enjoy being part of. We went across Canada with the committee looking at the framework for National Security. It’s a very interesting process. We’ve had a lot of really good people come before the committee, looking at what we need to do as a country within the context of our borders. and where we’re heading.

Ray Hudson: Apart from your large responsibilities nationally, what are the major issues you would like to see dealt with here?

Dianne Watts: First and foremost is the rail safety issue followed by the border crossing and cross-border drug and firearm issues. Getting that on the agenda for the committee to have a look at was the first thing I did when I was elected. Then there are the everyday issues including the environment, homelessness, issues around the economy and job creation. We also deal with a lot of immigration issues, passports and travel as well.

When I got elected, I made a commitment that I would take the voice of the riding forward on every single issue that we have dealt with including assisted dying and electoral reform. I’ve set up a very hands-on, very engaged Youth Council. And I will continue to uphold that commitment to take that voice forward, and will vote accordingly. I’m very fortunate in that the Conservative Party has encouraged all MPs to make sure that the voices of the ridings are heard, which absolutely fits the commitments I’ve made to the people who live here.