Shuswap MLA George Abbott concedes that he’s pretty much over his 34-year addiction to politics.
While he’ll continue to represent his constituents until the provincial election in the spring, Abbott is excited about embarking on a new career.
On Jan. 9, the former political science professor of then- Okanagan University College will again stand before a group of university students to teach Political Science 365, a course that focuses on B.C.’s political economy, politics, government, economic development and policy development
“All of those have been central to my life for the past 17 years, starting in local government and most intensely in big ministries like health and education,” Abbott says. “I’ll be relaying my experience to (University of Victoria) students who may some day be in politics, or more likely find their way into the public service.”
When asked about a return to teaching, Abbott refers to Confucius, considered to be China’s most famous teacher, philosopher, and political theorist, who advised “choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
“Teaching is not just enjoyable, it is often magical to teach generally younger people some of the things going on in the world,” Abbott says. “I am hoping I still feel the same way.”
In terms of the province’s $1.47 billion debt, which is reported to be much higher, Abbott says that while questions are better directed to the finance minister he can say that rules put in place in 1996 make it impossible to “fudge the books.”
“This is a challenging time; people have every right to be skeptical,” he says.
“We can all look into our personal crystal ball and try to guess what’s gonna happen, not just in B.C. but in Greece, Spain, there’s just a jot of factors that month to month and year to year change our outlook in B.C.”
Abbott points to other issues that have contributed to deficit issues in the province – a collapse in the American housing industry which affects B.C.’s forestry industry, lower demand for natural resources due to the recession in Europe and a glut of natural gas in North America.
“As a small trading economy, what happens in the rest of the world affects us. If the rest of the world goes into a tailspin, B.C. will reap the whirlwind,” he says. “Sometimes we like to amplify our problems, but we’re safe compared to many other places.”
In terms of highs and lows for Abbott and his government over the past year, the local MLA says one of the very good things that occurred was collective agreements between most of the public sector unions and government – most of them net zero.
“There is relative labour peace in the province,” he says.
“For me, a mediated solution to the BCTF (B.C. Teachers Federation) dispute was certainly a high. The dispute itself clouded our abilities to build a better relationship between government and unions.”
And therein lies Abbott’s choice for most-challenging issue.
“I had hoped as the new minister of education two years ago to build a more constructive and collaborative relationships,” he says. “We made some small steps in that direction with early discussion about a BC Teachers Council and public policy, but all of it went sideways when we entered phase one of the strike. If anything, it went backwards.”
But Abbott says British Columbians need to keep in mind that the province has one of the best education systems in the world.
He says a recent presentation by an OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) policy leader ranks B.C. as number five in the world.
“We are always competitive with Ontario and Alberta in the nation and Canada is one of the top nations in the world,” he says.
“With some sound, incremental renewal and reforms to BC’s education system, we could move up to an even higher place in terms of success.”