More B.C. Liberal resignations expected ahead of cabinet shuffle
Education Minister George Abbott among those leaving, The Canadian Press says
Three more members of the B.C. Liberal government are expected to announce their intentions to leave politics, as Premier Christy Clark prepares to shuffle her cabinet in preparation for the coming May election.
Government sources have told The Canadian Press that Education Minister George Abbott, Children and Family Development Minister Mary McNeil and John Les, parliamentary secretary to the premier, will announce on Thursday they won't seek re-election in the May provincial election.
CBC B.C. legislative reporter Stephen Smart has independently confirmed Abbott's resignation and Abbott has called a press conference for 11 a.m. in Victoria.
The three resignations come less than 24 hours after former finance minister Kevin Falcon stepped down from cabinet and said he won't be running in the spring.
Following Falcon's announcement, Clark said Wednesday that she expected more resignations and signalled she was preparing to shuffle her cabinet shortly to fill the vacant positions.
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.
Abbott and McNeil have been signalling for months they were pondering their political futures, but the pending departure of Les comes as a surprise.
B.C. Conservative Party leader John Cummins was quick to react to Falcon's resignation, saying it was a sign of the Liberals' looming defeat in the upcoming May election.
"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.
Cummins says his party plans to do all it can to attract the "right of centre" voters who previously supported Falcon.
Ran for leadership
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 the government passed strike-prohibiting legislation, the teachers and their employer reached a two-year mediated deal.
Abbott refused to give the teachers a wage increase during the dispute.
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.
Les a former mayor
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.