PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. - British Columbia's cabinet minister who lead the charge on Premier Christy Clark's all-important jobs plan is leaving politics for medical reasons, but Pat Bell has agreed to stay on in his current role until the upcoming May election.
Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Minister Bell announced Sunday he will not seek another term as MLA for Prince George-Mackenzie, in northern B.C., after medical tests picked up a rare type of aneurysm.
A cardiac specialist is monitoring the size of his problem, which may require ongoing checkups or surgery if it grows.
"This is a critical and compelling time for our province and it's equally critical that our team members are able to focus 100 per cent of their attention on the task at hand," he said in a release.
"With my diagnosis, I need to turn my mind to my personal health and this would take my attention away from my responsibilities as your MLA."
Bell, who has spent 12 years in provincial politics, said he informed the premier of his decision and accepted her request for him to continue his existing responsibilities until the province goes to the polls.
His announcement comes just ahead of the provincial budget on Tuesday.
Clark said Sunday that Bell epitomizes what an MLA can accomplish, citing his open door policy "to quietly help those in need" and being a "strong voice" for his community.
"Politics can be a tough job and Pat always did politics different, graciously and respecting everyone," she said in a release.
"As he moves on to the next chapter of his life and focuses on his health, Pat will continue to set an example and can know he has a lasting legacy of making a difference."
Bell suggested his diagnosis was made somewhat coincidentally after he underwent a series of medical tests last fall to check for possible pneumonia. His doctor spotted something that, on further investigation, revealed he may have had the "relatively rare" type of aneurysm for some time.
He said he feels fortunate, because it's a condition that is rarely detected.
An aneurysm is a bulging section in the wall of a blood vessel that can cause bleeding if it ruptures, according to HealthLink BC. Bell's statement does not provide more details on the type of aneurysm he had diagnosed.
Bell said has many people to thank from his years in politics, but in particular extends his appreciation to both his wife and colleague Shirley Bond, B.C.'s justice minister and attorney general.
He said his wife Brenda, to whom he's been married for almost 35 years, is the person who "made any success that I have had possible.
"Encouraging me, making sure that I never lost sight of our core principles and values and being the anchor of our home life."
He added that Bond, who is an MLA for neighbouring Prince George-Mount Robson, should be recognized for establishing an "open working relationship with all our constituents, friends and foe unlike anything I have seen.
"We took the negativity out of politics in Prince George and our community is better for that."
Bell said he expects others to step forward in the coming days to take on the task of filling the Liberal nomination.
"This is not the way I had planned to exit politics but my time has come," he said.
Prince George lawyer Bobby Deepak is the NDP candidate for the Prince George-Mackenzie riding.
Bell, who spearheaded the premier's jobs plan efforts, was also deeply involved in her strategy to court Asian markets.
The minister has travelled to Asia several times to drum up business for B.C.'s struggling forest industry.
He also sought new markets for B.C. mills suffering after the U.S. housing downturn.
But Bell had most recently been taking heat over the ongoing legal battles between unions and a mining company over importing Chinese workers on temporary permits to work in a northern coal mine.
Bell's departure is another deep wound for Clark's election team.
He joins veteran Liberal cabinet ministers George Abbott, Kevin Falcon and Blair Lekstrom, among others, who are not running in May.
That leaves Clark with reduced bench strength as she prepares to campaign for a fourth Liberal mandate. Veterans Rich Coleman, Bond, Mary Polak and Mike de Jong are running again.
— Written by Tamsyn Burgmann in Vancouver