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Abbott enters race to lead Liberals, province

Shuswap MLA George Abbott today announced his candidacy to lead the British Columbia Liberal Party and replace outgoing Premier Gordon Campbell.

“The B.C. Liberal Party and the B.C. Liberal government is at this point at a pretty low point in the ditch of public opinion,” he said. “I hope the next bump we feel is the vehicle coming out of the ditch and onto the road.”

He refused to disparage Campbell's leadership, but added the party's performance could be improved. He acknowledged there is deep-seated anger at the government that needs to be repaired by whoever becomes Liberal leader and premier.

“I am the right leader and the right premier for the province of British Columbia,” said Abbott, who said he resigned as education minister so he can focus on the campaign. He said his leadership would be characterized by listening and consultation. “Divisions won't be healed by any one decision out of Victoria . . . The only enduring change is collaborative change.”

Abbott said he believes in building a strong free enterprise economy, supporting families as the foundation of successful communities and harnessing the interdependence of rural and urban communities.

He said he supports the HST but remains concerned about how it was implemented. “We owe the public better than we delivered on the HST,” he said. He would move up the date for the referendum to no later than June 24, 2011 and would respect the decision of a majority of voters.

He also said he would consult with government, MLAs, labour and the public on raising the minimum wage which has gone from the highest in Canada to the lowest since the Liberals took office in 2001.

Supporters attending Abbott's announcement in Vancouver included Environment Minister Murray Coell and MLAs Gordon Hogg, John Van Dongen, Richard Lee, John Rustad and Don McRae. Wanting to come but unable to make it were MLAs Kash Heed, Norm Letnick and John Slater, according to Hogg, who introduced Abbott. Several small town mayors and two first nation's chiefs also attended.

Hogg said Abbott is “a man who will bring a new collaborative style of leadership” to the party and the province.

Abbott was first elected in 1996 and re-elected in 2001 and 2005. His cabinet assignments have included aboriginal relations and reconciliation, health and sustainable resource management.

The only other Liberal to so far announce a campaign to replace Campbell is Vancouver-Langara MLA Moira Stilwell, who also stepped down from cabinet. Several more candidates are expected to enter the race shortly.

The party will hold the leadership vote on Feb. 26.

Update, 1:20 p.m.: Premier Gordon Campbell announced cabinet minister Margaret MacDiarmid will head the education ministry while keeping her responsibilities for tourism, trade and investment.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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