Could George Abbott, the berry farmer from Sicamous, become the next premier of British Columbia? More to the point, if he wins the BC Liberal leadership race on Saturday will he be the kind of leader who can truly take us into the future? Or will he fall prey to the pitfalls posed by sycophants, vanity and arrogance that threaten to entrap all leaders?
I confess I’m something of a political junkie. In the course of 35 years since becoming a reporter in 1976 I’ve covered national, provincial and local elections and have worked on federal elections in 1993, 1997 and 2008 for the federal Liberal and Conservative parties. In all of that time I’ve met a large number of would-be leaders, a few of whom are still good friends. And as much as I like to think of myself as an optimist when it comes to people I think I have a pretty good political bullshit detector. It hasn’t failed me yet.
So when I listened to the former minister of health and minister of education talk to a crowd of about 45 local BC Liberal Party members, supporters and members of the public I was waiting for that tell-tale “Beep!”
It didn’t go off. Nor did I hear it when I sat down spoke privately with Abbott after his speech and lengthy question and answer period.
Okay. I’ll admit: I had heard Abbott speak to the party faithful in Salmon Arm last month and was impressed then. I was even more impressed after his performance at the Riverside Landing Restaurant at the Golf Course on Wednesday evening. Why?
Abbott struck me as a genuine person who believes deeply in the ability of British Columbians — citizens of perhaps the most fractious political entity in the Canadian federation — to overcome their differences and work to build a brighter, better future for all. And he does that from his position as a genuine Made-in-the-Interior individual who knows how to listen to people, find common points of agreement and build consensus.
He is personally modest and has a self-deprecating wit yet he knows he has a gift for divining a path through the political minefields that make public life in BC so dangerous. There’s nothing slick and manufactured about George Abbott. What you see is pretty much what you get and I have to admit that I like that. It’s refreshing after Gordon Campbell who always seemed to grasp for the right phrase, the right words but never seemed terribly interested in hearing what others had to say. And, having seen them on TV, I have to say he is far more genuine, more unique and less plastic than his main opponents, Christy Clark and Kevin Falcon, neither of whom has bothered to wander deep into the Interior. Abbott, on the other hand, has spent the last 100 days visiting hundreds of villages, towns and cities across the province and talking to and answering questions and complaints form about 10,000 people in meetings just like Wednesday’s.
If there is anyone in the BC Liberal Party who can keep sweaty New Democratic Party strategists tossing and turning all night it’s George Abbott. He represents the kind of highly intelligent, intuitive rural-based politician who can bridge the increasingly vast rural-urban divide in BC and offer an enlightened path to a free-enterprise-oriented future.
Ideally, come Saturday he’ll be the man BC Liberals pick to lead them — and perhaps the rest of us — into the future.