George Abbott, Mary McNeil, John Les Confirm Exit From BC Liberals

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GEORGE ABBOTT COWICHAN
George Abbott is a four-term MLA. (CP) | CP

VICTORIA - Three more high-profile members of the B.C. Liberal government have announced they will not be seeking re-election next May, leaving Premier Christy Clark to brush aside references to rats and sinking ships.

Education Minister George Abbott and Children's Minister Mary McNeil said Thursday they would not run again, though neither resigned their cabinet portfolios.

John Les, a one-time solicitor general and current parliamentary secretary to Clark, also said he would leave.

The announcements come one day after Kevin Falcon announced he would not seek re-election and resigned his cabinet post as finance minister.

Clark has been battered by pundits' suggestions that her team is bailing in anticipation of a rout in next May's election, but she has instead said the departures are a normal part of politics, especially with MLAs who have spent more than a decade in the legislature.

Clark said she's taking the resignations as an opportunity for party renewal and said she will announce a new cabinet as early as next week, a cabinet Abbott said he doesn't expect to be in.

Abbott has represented the Shuswap riding since 1996, while Falcon was elected in 2001.

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At his news conference Thursday, Abbott displayed the kind of dry wit and good humour he has become known for, even as he steered the province through a divisive, year-long job action by teachers.

Abbott said Thursday the legislature had become "my personal Hotel California."

He noted the 1970s-era song also includes the lines "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave," and "I was thinking to myself this could be heaven or this could be hell."

Abbott, who had served as minister in the delicate portfolios of health and aboriginal relations, ran an uncharacteristically bitter leadership campaign which he lost to Clark last year and placed behind Falcon. Prior to politics, he was a political science instructor, berry farmer and minor hockey coach.

McNeil, who represents Vancouver-False-Creek, was first elected in 2009, but said she now wants to spend more time with her family.

"My decision comes after much discussion with my family over this summer," McNeil said in a statement.

"It was not an easy one to make as I have very much enjoyed my time in public office. The most important (factor) for me was my family, especially my thirteen wonderful grandchildren, who I know have lost out on quality time with their grandmother these past four years."

Les was elected in 2001 in Chilliwack after 16 years in municipal politics. Provincially, he served as solicitor general and small business minister under former premier Gordon Campbell. He did not sit on the front benches of Clark's cabinet.

Clark issued a statement Thursday thanking all three for their service.

Full Statement from Premier Christy Clark:

Today, I want to thank George Abbott, Mary McNeil, and John Les for their dedication and commitment to British Columbia.

George and I were first elected as MLAs in 1996, and it has been an honour and privilege to work with him over the years. His keen intellect and sharp wit around the cabinet table and in caucus will be greatly missed. As Minister of Education his delicate tact and tireless work was instrumental to negotiating a settlement with the BCTF earlier this year. I would like to thank George for his dedication to B.C. and I wish him and his family all the best as they enter the next stage of their lives together.

Since being elected in 2009, Mary McNeil has served with distinction in cabinet as Minister of Children and Family Development, Minister of Citizen Services, and Minister of State for the Olympics and ActNow BC. Mary will be remembered for her collaborative approach, working with B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth to improve the lives of B.C.'s most vulnerable children. With 13 grandchildren I understand her decision not to seek re-election and to spend more time with her family. I pass on my best wishes to Mary, Rod and the rest of their family.

John Les has served with distinction the residents of Chilliwack for nearly a quarter of a century first as mayor and later as MLA. His decision not to seek re-election is not only a loss to our government, but also to Chilliwack. During his time as Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor-General John was integral to helping fight drugs and combat crime in B.C. I would like to thank John's wife Mattie and their six children and 15 grandchildren for sharing him with us, and I wish them all the best going forward.

Full Statement From George Abbott:

Today, I am announcing my decision not to seek a renewed nomination to run as a candidate for the riding of Shuswap in the May 2013 provincial election.

While I do not come upon this decision lightly, I do so with a strong sense of accomplishment and gratification from my more than 30 years in public life.

Having started as an elected member of local government, being elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1996, and then having the honour to serve as a member of Executive Council in areas such a local government, resource development, health and education, I feel extremely fortunate for the trust that has been bestowed upon me by local electors, my peers, and my Premiers over the years. This has truly been the experience of a lifetime for me. But all things must come to an end, and I believe the time has come for me to pursue different opportunities and challenges.

I want to first extend my gratitude to the constituents of the Shuswap riding for providing me with the opportunity to serve as their MLA for the last four terms. I also want to thank my constituency assistants, my riding organization, and the many local volunteers and supporters who have dedicated their time and their patience to assisting me in better serving the Shuswap.

I thank my friends and colleagues within the BC Liberal caucus – both past and present -- for their continued dedication to our party and our government, and for the many personal friendships that I will continue to value for the years to come.

I want to extend my sincere gratitude to Premier Christy Clark for the honour of serving in her cabinet as Minister of Education for the past 18 months – this has been one of the highlights of my public service career. I firmly believe that under her leadership, we will not only see the next BC Liberal candidate successfully elected in the Shuswap riding, but the re-election of a BC Liberal government in 2013.

I want to recognize all of the BC public servants I have had the pleasure of working with. Their dedication, professionalism, and commitment to our province are exemplary. I have always strived to develop the strongest partnership possible with our public service so that together we are able to build public policy that benefits all citizens.

Finally, I want to thank my wife Lesley, my children and my family for the years of support they have provided me in pursuing my dream of making a difference in public life. My recent experience vying for the leadership of the BC Liberal Party reinforced for me what a significant honour it is to serve the citizens of this province, but also what a sacrifice it requires from the families of those who choose to serve. I could not have done any of this without their support, and I am eternally grateful.

In closing, while I look forward to the opportunity to continue to serve my constituents through until May 2013, I equally look forward to lending my support to the next candidate for the riding of Shuswap who will continue to build upon the great opportunities within my home region and across the province in 2013 and beyond.

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