3 more B.C. Liberals stepping down ahead of spring election
George Abbott, John Les, Mary McNeil all confirm they will not run again
Three prominent B.C. Liberals have confirmed they will not run in the upcoming provincial election, bringing the total number of MLAs to officially step down to 10.
On Thursday morning John Les, the parliamentary secretary to the premier, confirmed rumours that he would not run again for his seat in Chilliwack, east of Vancouver, with a statement posted on his website.
A short time later Minister of Children and Family Development Mary McNeil, the MLA for Vancouver-False Creek also issued a statement confirming rumours she would not run again in May.
Then Education Minister and Shuswap MLA George Abbott also confirmed at a news conference that he won't seek re-election in the May provincial election.
Abbott did not give a specific reason for stepping down, but said he felt a strong sense of accomplishment for the work he had done.
"This has been a very interesting place and I've tremendously enjoyed my last 17 years in provincial office, five years in opposition, the balance in government," said Abbott.
McNeil said her family played a big role in her decision to step down,
"The most important for me was my family, especially my 13 wonderful grandchildren, who I know have lost out on quality time with their grandmother these past four years," she said.
Les gave no specific reason for his decision to step down, other than a desire to seek other opportunities, and denied suggestions that the party's poor showing in recent polls had anything to do with his departure.
"I've been around for a long time. Time for a fresh perspective and time for me to get on with another chapter in my life while I can still do that," he said.
"A person in this business can perhaps become a little bit stale, or sometimes you feel a little weary of it all, and so it's a great opportunity I think for the Chilliwack riding to find a new individual, a new candidate with new ideas, fresh perspectives."
Cabinet shuffle expected
The new resignations follow former finance minister Kevin Falcon's announcement on Wednesday that he won't be running in the spring, and government sources say more resignations are expected in the coming days.
Six other MLAs had already announced their intentions not to run again for the B.C. Liberals earlier this year.
After Falcon's announcement, Premier Clark said Wednesday that she had asked her caucus to let her know by the end of summer if they planned to run again in May, and said she expected more resignations.
The premier's office noted before the Liberals win in the 2005 election 17 B.C. Liberal MLAs decided not to run again, and before the most recent 2009 election, 10 Liberal MLAs decided not to run, including six cabinet ministers.
Clark said was preparing to shuffle her cabinet shortly to fill the vacant positions and prepare for the coming election.
She said Falcon's resignation and those that were to come should not be viewed as the disintegration of her government but as opportunities for the Liberals to rebuild their free-enterprise coalition and bring fresh eyes to the government.
But University of the Fraser Valley political science professor Hamish Telford said Clark will need to attract some high profile candidates to prove the party is rebuilding.
"To play that card effectively, it's got to be backed up with some tangible evidence. Where is the new blood, who are the new candidates?" said Telford.
"Who is the new person with the gravitas of a Kevin Falcon who can step in and be the next finance minister of British Columbia, someone who's well-respected in economic circles, business circles, we're just not seeing those new people flocking to the Liberal party."
B.C. Conservative Party Leader John Cummins was also quick to react to Falcon's resignation, saying it was a sign of the Liberals' looming defeat in the upcoming May election and his party plans to do all it can to attract the "right of centre" voters who previously supported Falcon.
"There's no doubt if a party's healthy, if a party's growing in popularity, if a party's sure it's going to be government after the next election, people don't retire," said Cummins.
Abbott placed 3rd in leadership race
Abbott is a four-term Liberal who ran for the party leadership last year, placing third behind Clark and Falcon.
Abbott guided the province through a tumultuous period last year as the government and province's teachers attempted to negotiate a new labour contract.
Teachers withheld many extra-curricular activities for much of the school year, but after refused to give the teachers a wage increase during the dispute, the government passed strike-prohibiting legislation, the teachers and their employer reached a two-year mediated deal.
The Shuswap MLA was first elected in 1996 and quickly earned a reputation as a genial and quick-witted cabinet minister who excelled in the often verbally vicious legislature.
Abbott also served as ministers of health, aboriginal relations and reconciliation, women's services and community relations and sustainable resource management.
McNeil, first elected in 2009, has been saying in recent months she wanted to spend more time with her grandchildren.
The Vancouver-False Creek MLA also served as minister of citizen services. Prior to entering politics, McNeil had a long history of community involvement, including serving as president and chief executive officer of the BC Cancer Foundation.
Les, the former mayor of Chilliwack, was first elected as that city's MLA in 2001.
He served as solicitor general and minister of small business and economic development.
He also served as parliamentary secretary for the government and played a key role in providing the public with information about the ill-fated harmonized sales tax.
With files from The Canadian Press