George Abbott flatly denies he’s abandoning a government in trouble.
The Shuswap MLA’s decision not to run in the May 2013 election comes as the Liberals lag behind the NDP opposition in the polls.
“It didn’t play a role at all,” said Abbott, who was first elected in 1996.
“The standing in the polls was irrelevant to my personal future.”
And Abbott insists the government can remain in power next year.
“Given the formidable campaigner she is, Premier Clark has a tremendous opportunity to turn this around,” he said.
Abbott reached a conclusion about his future during August.
“The time is right to focus on other interests in my life,” said Abbott, adding that his first project with be working with a British professor on educational issues.
The former Okanagan College instructor may also do some guest teaching and research.
Abbott, who was in civic politics before becoming MLA, says retirement was an easy decision.
“The last time I woke up not being in public office, I was 26 years old. That’s a long time ago,” he said, adding that his departure allows for renewal in the constituency and the party.
Premier Christy Clark will shuffle her cabinet this week to focus on individuals seeking re-election and Abbott won’t be education minister.
“I loved education. I arrived when there was a lot of policy work needing to be done, and I believe I brought skills to the table that allowed a lot of that work to be done,” he said.
Abbott has also served in the aboriginal relations, health, community services and sustainable resource management portfolios.
“His keen intellect and sharp wit around the cabinet table and in caucus will be greatly missed,” said Clark.
Abbott placed third in last year’s campaign to replace Gordon Campbell as Liberal leader.
Steve Gunner, the NDP’s Shuswap candidate, says Abbott deserves credit for representing constituents and his handling of educational matters.
“He has had many years of unblemished public service and he has the respect of many people he has worked with,” said Gunner, who believes Abbott’s departure creates opportunities in the Shuswap. “George has done the best he can with what he was given. He was a good man in a difficult portfolio.”
“There’s an appetite for change. The free-enterprise doctrine is not working for everyone in the province,” he said.
And Abbott has his fans in the Shuswap too. Longtime Sicamous resident and former mayor Lorraine March posted her appreciation on Facebook:
“Thank you, George, for your many years of distinguished and dedicated service to the people of B.C. Your contributions, your achievements, and the honour you have brought to your hometown is deeply appreciated. Happy retirement!”
Sicamous resident Terry Sinton posted a simple thanks while Carol Arbuthnott, suggested Abbott bring his political skills back to the Shuswap.
“Thanks George, now come home and get into politics here – you would be a great addition to your hometown government.”
Other Liberals retiring this week are Kevin Falcon, John Les and Mary McNeil.
Eric Foster, Vernon-Monashee MLA, denies the departures mean the Liberals are floundering.
“It’s our job to make sure people know this isn’t the case. The ship isn’t sinking,” he said.