MP Jim Abbott has earned his political retirement

David F. Rooney

He’s been in the political saddle for Revelstoke and the rest of Kootenay-Columbia riding since 1993 but come the next election, MP Jim Abbott will be back on the ground and dusting himself off ready to devote the coming years to his wife Jeanette, their children and grandchildren.

Abbott, you see, announced on Saturday that he will not seek reelection as the Conservative Party MP for this riding.

Jim has always been a dedicated family man and although life as a Member of Parliament often meant long hours, days and weeks apart from his wife Jeanette, when he was back in the riding he always spent as much time with her as possible, She was his frequent companion on trips around the riding, quietly sitting in the truck waiting for him to finish talking with whoever he was meeting. Someone who doesn;t understand politics and its impact on family relationships might think he was ignoring her. In fact, Jim adores her and once you meet her it’s not hard to see why. A smart, pretty and witty woman, she understood the parameters of her role as a political wife and the dangers posed by becoming a public figure herself.

Weekends in the riding are, for the Abbotts, sacrosanct family time. Jim has always protected his family from politics and media intrusions and he uses what little time active political life granted him to spend it with Jeanette, their kids and grandchildren.

You can do that for a year, two, three maybe even four or five years. But 17 years? That’s wearing.

Jim has toyed with the idea of leaving politics over the years but he enjoyed it immensely and he relished the satisfaction of knowing that he and his staff actually managed to help most of the constituents who called his office seeking assistance. But he loved his family even more and was often conflicted by those very different pressures.

“Jeanette has never put any pressure on me,” Jim said after announcing Saturday that he won’t seek reelection. “I woke up one day and just told her I was thinking of retiring.”

Life-long local Conservatives like Lloyd Good will miss Jim Abbott. His election in 1993 helped propel the Reform Party to political prominence and his inherent fairness, willingness to hear and consider alternative viewpoints and his efforts on behalf of intelligent small-C conservative politics have won him respect right across the political spectrum.

“Jim’s the kind of guy who if you went to him with a problem he’d try to satisfy you no matter what,” said Good, who chairs the local Conservative Party segment in Revelstoke. “He’s fair, hard-working, honest and well-liked — that’s the best yardstick I can think of for a politician.”

Active local leaders like Mayor David Raven and New Democratic Party MLA Norm Macdonald will miss him, too.

“It’s disappointing,” Raven said Saturday afternoon. “Jim has always been a friend of Revelstoke, but I think we all wish him well.”

Macdonald said that despite their ideological differences he “always found Jim to be both gracious and respectful.”

“Many years before I became involved in provincial politics, Jim would visit my classroom to discuss the political system with my highschool students,” he said. “I admired his willingness to meet with young people, and have chosen, as MLA, to follow his lead and visit with students on a regular basis.

“Over the last five years, my office staff and Jim’s office staff have worked closely together to provide services to our constituents.  I believe that this seamless, non-partisan approach has benefitted this area greatly. I appreciate all the years that Jim has given, fully understanding the pressures this type of work puts on one’s family.  I wish Jim and Jeanette all the best in retirement.”

It’s easy to believe that the men and women who seek political office are lazy, self-centered and avaricious individuals. That may be true of some but after 35 years of reporting on political life I am certain that is not true of the vast majority of people  attracted to it, people like Jim Abbott who really want to make a difference.

Speaking for myself, I have known Jim for almost 10 years and worked for him as his Revelstoke-based constituency assistant from July 2008 until March 2009 I have always regarded him as an admirable and hard-working MP. One of the first things he told me was that party affiliation and ideology had no bearing on his job and his relationship with constituents. With rare exceptions he keenly enjoyed meeting and working with any and all constituents. I’d probably still be working for him today but he wanted me to move from Revelstoke to Cranbrook and that, unfortunately, was a deal-breaker. Still, the experience strengthened my respect for him and for Jeanette.

After 17 years Jim’s earned some peace and well-deserved family time with Jeanette and their family. I hope they enjoy it.