By David F. Rooney
By the time BC Liberal leadership hopeful George Abbott was finished speaking on Wednesday there likely wasn’t a single person in the Riverside Landing Restaurant who wasn’t convinced that he was the best choice to lead the party into the future.
“He covered all the bases,” said George Buhler after the evening meeting that drew 45 people. “I think he’s a pretty straight-up guy, an Interior guy.”
Abbott arrived in Revelstoke Wednesday with former leadership hopefuls Ed Mayne and Dr. Moira Stilwell who now support him at the tail-end of a 100-day campaign for the leadership that saw him visit hundreds of villages, towns and cities across the province and speak to and field questions and complaints from perhaps 10,000 people.
His message? The BC Liberal Party is broken and he is the man to fix it.
“I do think we lost our way,” he said of the party. “I do not think we have done a good job of politics in the last year and a half.”
Abbott said the government lost touch with the people and began to believe it could impose policies on British Columbians without consulting them.
“If you do not have the people as part of the process they will not embrace it.”
Abbott is not a slick-looking, calculating politician. He looks like somebody you’d have coffee with at Conversations. He’s got a twinkle in his eye that tells you he loves a good joke and when he talks about how the party needs to rebuild its connections with the ordinary people of BC you can tell he means it. And the party has to do just that if it is to survive beyond the 2013 general election.
Anyone who lives and works in the Interior knows there is a real urban-rural disconnect. Many, perhaps even most, Lower Mainlanders have little conception of what it takes to live in the Interior. They don’t appreciate the distances we have to travel to seek many services or the community-wide anguish when businesses and industries fail Try to discuss it with them they’ll often say you should move to the city. Cities are attractive places if you want to get away for a day or two, but I think most of us who were born here or, like me, choose to live here do so because we love our small-town lifestyle. We like the human scale of our villages and towns. And we want to enjoy economic success on our terms.
Abbott understands that. In an interview after his speech he said the Columbia Basin Trust is a model he’d like to see emulated across the province to help rural communities enjoy the same kind of success we have here.
“One of the first things I’ll do is sit down with regional leaders,” he said.
He wants to rebuild local agriculture and the resource-based industries that are at the fundamental basis of BC’s economic success and he belies the provincial education and health-care systems require major reforms.
Abbott did not make any grandiose promises but he did make a commitment to stand behind a promise by Stillwell that Revelstoke should be the home of a $10 million search and rescue and avalanche research centre. Sounds great but first he has to beat Christy Clark and Kevin Falcon to win the party leadership.
Public opinion polls show Clark in the lead, but the only vote that matters is not a public one. To find out more about the way the party has structured its leadership vote go to www.bcliberals.com.