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George Abbott, Mary McNeil, John Les the latest B.C. Liberals to retire

B.C. Education Minister George Abbott.

JOHN LEHMANN/The Globe and Mail

Education Minister George Abbott, Children's Minister Mary McNeil and long-time Chilliwack MLA John Les are the latest members of Premier Christy Clark's British Columbia Liberal government to announce they won't be seeking re-election next May.

Mr. Abbott says he won't resign as Education Minister and describes his life in politics as a "very long journey."

He joins Ms. McNeil and Mr. Les, who also announced Thursday they will not run.

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Ms. Clark issued a statement thanking all for their service to the province.

She has rejected suggestions she is losing prominent members of her team because her party is slipping in the polls and is trailing well behind the Opposition NDP.

Ms. McNeil, who represents Vancouver-False-Creek, issued a statement Thursday saying she will remain as an MLA until next May, but won't be running in the election. Earlier in the day, Mr. Les confirmed he won't seek a fourth term.

Ms. McNeil says she isn't resigning her cabinet post and says she'll serve the premier in any capacity she wishes. Ms. McNeil was first elected in 2009, but says she now wants to spend more time with her family, including her 13 grandchildren.

Mr. Les thanked both the premiers he worked under and says the decision to leave was difficult.

Mr. Les, whose current post is parliamentary secretary to Premier Christy Clark, was elected in 2001 and served as solicitor general. He says he's looking forward to new challenges and exploring other opportunities.

Mr. Abbott was first elected in 1996 as MLA for Shuswap and has held the seat since, taking itfor a fourth time in 2009.

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He held several roles in cabinet, including Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation; Minister of Health; Minister of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services and Minister of Sustainable Resource Management.

As education minister, Mr. Abbott was in charge during a tumultuous labour dispute last year that included job action and a province-wide withdrawal of teachers from extracurricular activities. The British Columbia Teachers' Federation was lobbying for higher wages as well as changes relating to classroom size and composition. The province stuck to a net-zero mandate that required new contracts to cost no more than the agreements they replace.

The dispute was brought to an end with new education legislation, Bill 22, that passed in March. Teachers ratified a new, two-year contract that expires in June, 2013. It did not include a wage increase but did include some improvements to teachers' benefits.

On Wednesday, Kevin Falcon said he would not run in the next election and was resigning his portfolio as Finance Minister.

Ms. Clark says she's taking the resignations as an opportunity for party renewal and says she will announce a new cabinet as early as next week.

In the search for a star candidate in May, Ms. Clark can rule out Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts. There has long been speculation that Ms. Watts may at some point make a move to provincial politics. But Ms. Watts repeated on Thursday that she's not interested.

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"It's a very, very rare opportunity that you actually get to be at the helm when you are building a city," she told The Globe and Mail, "and for me that's the exciting part that has kept me so engaged with the city of Surrey and all the things that we're doing, because it is a very rare opportunity and my focus is the city. Myself and council, we're not done yet."

"I'm not going anywhere."

With report from Wendy Stueck and Marsha Lederman, The Globe and Mail

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