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Bell says his departure will help Liberals

B.C. Jobs Minister Pat Bell says he's leaving politics for medical reasons, but will stay on in his current role until the coming May election. Bell says he will not be seeking another term as MLA for Prince George-Mackenzie, in northern B.C., after medical tests picked up a rare type of aneurysm. Bell is shown speaking during a government announcement in Delta, B.C., on Jan. 22, 2013.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Jobs Minister Pat Bell says his decision to leave politics will help his B.C. Liberal Party with the "renewal" that the public desires.

With the party still mired in poor ratings in opinion polls three months before the provincial election, Mr. Bell joins George Abbott, Kevin Falcon and 19 other Liberal MLAs who have chosen not to seek re-election under Premier Christy Clark's banner. That is almost half of the team that was elected in 2009 under Gordon Campbell.

Mr. Bell, a senior-ranking cabinet minister, cites a medical reason for his decision to bail on the next election, but suggested the Liberal team will get along fine without the benefit of his experience.

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"Oftentimes, when you have been in politics you automatically think you've become smarter over a long period of time. I think there is some evidence that points to the opposite. So renewal is not a bad thing."

The Liberals have rebranded for the coming election as "Today's BC Liberals," which is supposed to be a reference to renewal under Ms. Clark's leadership.

"I'm confident in the renewal process, I think the public is also looking for that," Mr. Bell told reporters in Victoria on Monday, after announcing on Sunday that he has pulled out of the race after 12 years as an MLA. He said he was diagnosed in December with a rare aneurysm. He will remain in the high-pressure portfolio until the election, but the Liberals will now have to find a new candidate for Prince George-Mackenzie.

Mr. Bell, who owns two fast-food franchises in his home town of Prince George, quipped that his diet is not responsible for his medical condition. "Wendy's burgers are the cure," he said.

He said doctors will continue to monitor the size of the artery, which will require surgery if it grows.

"As long as it continues to stay stable, I should be able to continue to operate at full steam," he said. "My doctors advised me, 'You should continue running, you should continue doing all the things you have been doing.'"

But he said he reconsidered his plans to seek another term when faced with the potentially fatal condition. "It's always a tough day when you have a change in career plans and when you are facing a relatively serious medical diagnosis," he said. "I think stepping back at this time is the right thing to do."

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Shirley Bond, the other cabinet minister from Prince George, said she barely knew Mr. Bell when they were first elected in 2001, but they have become close friends and her voiced cracked with emotion when asked about his departure on Monday. "One of the best things about politics is the friendships that you make," she said.

As a pair, she added, the two ministers from Prince George have been an influencial force in cabinet. "I think we have emerged as leaders of this party."

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About the Author
B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

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