As premier, George Abbott says he would not call an early election to get his own mandate because the Liberal government would lose in the current political climate.
"If one were politically suicidal, which I have never been, one could seek to get a mandate from the electorate at a time when they were still working with their existing notions of our government rather than taking the time to build a new vision with those people," Mr. Abbott said in an interview Thursday after announcing his long-awaited campaign.
"We are very deeply entrenched in the ditch of public opinion, and it is going to take a good deal of work to extract ourselves from it."
The next election is set for May, 2013, under the fixed-election law. Liberals choose a successor to Premier Gordon Campbell on Feb. 26.
Mr. Abbott, initially elected in 1996, is the first of the cabinet heavyweights to enter the race, ahead of such possible candidates as Solicitor-General Rich Coleman and Health Minister Kevin Falcon.
On Thursday, Mr. Abbott - second into the race after former economic and skills development minister Moira Stillwell - quit his post as education minister to focus on winning the right to get the Liberals out of that ditch.
In his announcement before supporters at a downtown hotel, the five-time cabinet minister touched on dealing with one key irritant - the harmonized sales tax.
Mr. Abbott repeated a pledge to move the date of the referendum on the tax up to June from the planned September to get it out of the way, and promised public consultation on how to replace lost revenues if the tax is struck down. "The HST was brought in without proper consultation," he said. "We owe the public better than we delivered."
Mr. Abbott has suggested the first increase in the $8 minimum wage in 10 years is "probable" at this point, subject to a review of the issue. On Thursday, Labour Minister Iain Black said he is opening such consultations. "The question is what kind of increase, phased over what period. Those are very important questions," Mr. Abbott said.
Mr. Campbell had previously ruled out such an increase.
Mr. Abbott suggested the Liberals' new stance on the minimum wage was part of a move to show the party was a "revitalized political force."
He also laid out a $196-million program of commitments that include a new tax credit for home renovations worth $75-million, and a new health and wellness tax credit worth $60-million; another commitment to market B.C. to international visitors as a place to live and invest would cost $60-million, and there's a $1-million commitment for targeted resource-road maintenance.
Mr. Abbott said other costed promises would be coming on the campaign trail.
The Sicamous resident would be the first elected premier since Bill Bennett in the 1980s from outside the Lower Mainland, and he touted his abilities to bridge the urban and rural realities of the province.
"I do see both sides of life in British Columbia," he said. "I may be uniquely positioned to have all of government understand the needs of both the urban and the rural in our great province."
As he made his entry announcement, he was backed by six MLAs on stage with him and three who could not make it to the event. All were men, but Mr. Abbott said he expected he would recruit women from the caucus to endorse him over time.
"It is something we are working on," he said. "I am not concerned about it. There will be plenty of caucus support from women as well."
Mr. Abbott is well known for a wry, gentle sense of humour, which was on display during his announcement when he gently teased reporters for some of their questions, and offered droll sympathy to the NDP for caucus turmoil. "I am hoping they can pull together," he said.
He said humour is underutilized in politics, noting it is effective in breaking down positional barriers. "Somehow the whole world seems a little lighter and brighter when we're able to laugh together," he said. "I hope I never lose it after being beset by the pressures of this or any other office."
Asked about the origins of his sense of humour, he explained, "My notoriously dry humour is a direct consequence of genetic reproduction of my father's notoriously dry sense of humour."