George Abbott (left) shares a few words with Dr. Geoff Battersby during a meeting at the Riverside Landing restaurant last Wednesday.

Local favourite Abbott fails in BC Liberal leadership bid

Disappointment reigned amongst Revelstoke’s provincial Liberal faithful as local favourite George Abbott was unsuccessful in his bid for party leadership, losing out to Christy Clark.

“I’m definitely dissapointed about George, that’s for sure,” said Peter Bernacki, who organized local support for the Sicamous native Abbott. “For the Liberal government to have Christy for the next election, I don’t think she’s the one that’s going to take it all the way.” 

Clark was voted party leader Saturday after three rounds of voting that saw George Abbott drop out in the second round. 

Abbott received 68.9 per cent of the votes in the Columbia River-Revelstoke riding in the first round, compared to 12 per cent for Clark and 15.9 per cent for eventual runner-up Kevin Falcon.

In the second round of voting, he received 69.7 per cent of the vote, compared to 13.9 per cent and 16.3 per cent for Clark and Falcon respectively in the riding. 

However, provincially he fell about 200 votes short of Falcon and was dropped from the ballot. The final round of voting saw Clark take the win, with 52 per cent of the votes province wide, though only 24.7 per cent in Columbia River-Revelstoke.

“Well, the people have spoken and its up to her to see if she can pull the caucus and cabinet together and keep unity in the coalition,” said Dr. Geoff Battersby, a local Liberal who also expressed disappointment in Abbott’s loss. “That’s the way it is.”

Abbott’s support locally stemmed from his local, small town roots. The Shuswap MLA grew up on a berry farm near Sicamous and was one of only two leadership candidates to visit Revelstoke (the other, Moira Stillwell, dropped out of the race and ended up backing Abbott).

Abbott was in Revelstoke to answer questions at a gathering of 30 local Liberals at the Riverside Landing restaurant last Wednesday as part of a whirl-wind tour across the province.

He spoke of his roots in the area and said the B.C. Liberal Party needed to renew itself by spending more time meeting with residents across the province on a regular basis. 

“I do think we lost our way for a time,’ he said. “A lot of that was the defensiveness, the isolation, the insularity that followed from the extraordinarily awkward way in which we attempted to introduce the HST.”

He answered questions about the Trans-Canada Highway, healthcare, education, Hydro rates, post-secondary education and raising the minimum wage. He also endorsed Stillwell’s promise of a $10 million mountain search & rescue institute for Revelstoke.

What a Clark premiership means for Revelstoke remains unknown, said Bernacki.

“We don’t know what she’ll do for smaller towns,” he said.

Norm Macdonald, the MLA for Columbia River-Revelstoke told the Times Review that Clark was responsible for “an awful lot of cutbacks” when she was education minister. He was a school principal at the time and recalls around100 school closures.

“I think at some point she’s going to have to get a mandate,” Macdonald said in response to election/by-election issue. “You need a mandate and I think she recognizes that.”

“There’s a lot of explaining to do around the B.C. Rail scandal” said Macdonald, adding a public inquiry is a must. 

He is concerned Clark doesn’t understand rural issues, calling her “Vancouver-centric.” 

He said her talk show on CKNW illustrated a point. Pundits said she was in touch with the public because of her radio program, but Macdonald notes CKNW isn’t broadcast in rural areas like Revelstoke, saying Clark was more in touch with the Lower Mainland.

After winning the leadership race on Saturday, Clark was surrounded by Liberal MLAs as she delivered a victory speech promising to work with her fellow MLAs and stressing her campaign theme of families.

“My commitment to putting families first starts with job creation and fighting poverty,” Clark said. “These are going to be the top priorities for our government.”

Interim NDP leader Dawn Black issued a statement congratulating Clark, and urging her to call the legislature back into session immediately.

“Specifically, she needs to table legislation moving up the HST referendum, establish an independent third party review of the $6 million payoff to the B.C. Liberal insiders in the B.C. Rail corruption trial, and table a new budget that invests in people, creates jobs, and helps B.C. families make ends meet,” Black said.

With files from Aaaron Orlando/Times Review and Tom Fletcher/Black Press