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Surrey Mayor feels ‘blessed’ to have governed

Dianne Watts gives her ninth, and last, state of the city address, but remains quiet on her future plans

Darryl Dyck/The Globe and Mail

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts has ruled out a run for the U.S. presidency – although she remains mum on the rest of her future plans.

Ms. Watts gave her ninth and final state of the city address on Wednesday. She announced last month that she will not seek a fourth term.

The speech got off to a bumpy start when Tako van Popta of the law firm McQuarrie Hunter, who introduced Ms. Watts, referred to it as her state of the union address. The slip drew laughs from the members of the business community on hand.

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Ms. Watts, not missing a beat, took the stage and said, "President of the United States was just never something that I really wanted to do."

Speaking with reporters after the event, the mayor – who previously turned down an opportunity to run for the B.C. Liberal leadership and has been a rumoured candidate for the federal Conservatives – said she will finish her term "and then we'll see what comes around the corner."

Her speech, not surprisingly, focused on how the city had changed with her at its helm and its transition "from a residential suburb to the second metropolitan core of the region."

Ms. Watts said she felt "blessed" to have had the opportunity to lead.

"I can honestly say that I have held this city and its people in the highest regard. And when we are going in the same direction as a collective force, supporting one another, we are unstoppable," she said. "We have and we will continue to accomplish great things."

She praised her Surrey First team as "fearless, relentless, and determined" in its pursuit of its vision.

"I hope that as we look back on this moment in time that we will see and realize and acknowledge what really has been accomplished by this collective force. And that we were part of something unique, something extraordinary, and something historic. In life, we have to be limitless, we have to be fearless, and we have to live each day like it's our last. Because, in the end, we will only regret the chances we didn't take," she said.

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Hamish Telford, an associate professor of political science at the University of the Fraser Valley, said Ms. Watts has been remarkably effective at promoting her city and changing its reputation and image.

While bad news is still coming out of Surrey, he said, referring in particular to crime, that is counterbalanced by good news.

"Ten years ago, people could only think about the bad things," he said.

Although her speech was mostly about the good – increased investment, more jobs – Ms. Watts did touch on the issue of crime. Surrey last year had a record 25 homicides, including the brutal attack on Julie Paskall as she waited for her son outside a hockey arena.

Although she didn't mention the number of homicides specifically, Ms. Watts said crime ebbs and flows, and disputed any suggestion Surrey is unsafe.

By the end of March, 2013, 11 people had been killed in Surrey; only a single homicide had been counted by that point in 2014.

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Despite the reduction in homicides, most other types of crimes increased over that period, according to statistics released by the RCMP.

When asked what she regrets not being able to accomplish while in office, Ms. Watts pointed to the proposed light-rail transit project and expressed hope it will be built soon.

She laughed when asked if she is worried the next mayor will undo some of her work.

"I have every confidence that that individual will carry on and do extraordinarily well," she said.

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