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The Globe and Mail

For Abbott, 'peculiar genetic twist' of politics came early

British Columbia Liberal leadership candidate George Abbott outlines his platform policies during a news conference in Vancouver, B.C., on Jan. 4, 2011.


George Abbott has been fascinated by politics since he was knee-high to a grasshopper on his father's large berry farm outside the idyllic lakeside community of Sicamous.

"This peculiar genetic twist came very early and it has been persistent," says the genial, 58-year-old political veteran, the first serious contender to enter the race to replace Gordon Campbell as premier and leader of the B.C. Liberal Party.

But will the capability he has shown in five cabinet portfolios, his engaging but low-key demeanour, dry wit and policy thoughtfulness be enough to catapult Mr. Abbott over more flamboyant candidates into the premier's chair?

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Minus the charisma of Christy Clark or the aggressiveness of Kevin Falcon, Mr. Abbott is banking on his appeal in rural ridings, which count as much as heavily populated, urban constituencies. He'll also need sufficient second and even third-choice support on the Liberals' complex, preferential ballot to hand him a come-from-behind victory.

Few would question his political competence. Mr. Abbott spent four effective years in the pressure cooker post of health minister, a time he considers the highlight of his lengthy public career.

"You wake up every day knowing that decisions you make are going to have an impact on all British Columbians," he says. "You can't be health minister and not have a tough skin."

But Mr. Abbott insists he's still a small-town boy at heart. He continues to live with his wife on the same family farm that he worked for 20 years, before politics intruded.

"It has an impact, growing up in a town where you know everyone. It enhances your ability to get on and work with a range of people."

Back in Sicamous, Mr. Abbott's political achievements pale in comparison to his hockey coaching. Two homegrown players - Shea Weber and Cody Franson - have gone on to NHL careers, after being taken under wing at an early age by the man who would now be premier.

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