PRINCE GEORGE — Pat Bell’s political career will come to an end in May after the longtime Prince George-Mackenzie MLA, who is jobs minister, announced Sunday he won’t seek re-election due to health reasons.
Bell was diagnosed in December with a rare pulmonary aneurysm and decided about a month ago that he couldn’t seek a fourth term in office. He made the surprise announcement Sunday in front of supporters as the B.C. Liberals opened their joint Prince George campaign office.
“I was formally diagnosed with this on Dec. 15 and informed [Premier Christy Clark] at that time,” Bell said. “She asked me to think it through, to really make sure I was making the right decision.”
Bell kept the news under wraps for the past few weeks so that he was able to tell all his family members of the news personally, rather than having them hear it through the media.
“The last direct family member I spoke to was on Monday this past week,” he said.
It wasn’t an easy decision.
Bell had to weigh his health challenges against his job duties and the importance he sees in the next election. During his speech, he thanked his wife Brenda for her support over the years and singled out the friendship he developed with Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond.
“The last couple of months have been really tough,” Bell said. “First of all trying to make the decision, what do I do? Do I stay on for another term knowing that I may have health challenges going into that term? Do I step aside?”
In the end he felt it would be unfair to the voters if he were to be re-elected but then have to step down shortly after the vote if the aneurysm were to get worse.
Bell was first elected in the riding of Prince George North in 2001, after defeating businessman Dan McLaren and real estate agent Preet Sandhu in a nomination battle. He received 61 per cent of the vote in the general election and was first named to cabinet in 2004.
He’s served in a variety of portfolios including mining, agriculture, forestry and labour before taking on his current responsibilities of jobs, tourism and skills training.
The aneurysm was detected after Bell had undergone some tests for pneumonia last fall. Although the diagnosis has forced him to end his political career sooner than he planned, he’s thankful that his medical team caught the enlargement of the blood vessel.
“I feel fortunate that it was detected because this aneurysm is rarely detected and is frequently fatal if it’s not detected,” he said. “However it’s very treatable if it is detected.”
For the time being, Bell said the aneurysm is being monitored by a cardiologist, but if it grows any bigger it may require surgery to repair.
“It’s not one that’s common, in fact there’s very, very few of them so the surgery for it is unusual,” Bell said. “It’s not something that people practice and do five a week or even five a year.”
Despite the diagnosis, Bell will stay on as an MLA until the May 14 election and Clark asked him to remain in cabinet until after the vote. Bell accepted, on the condition he remains healthy enough to do the job.
Bell said he was proud of what the government accomplished during his time in office such as the creation of the Northern Medical Program, the construction of the Northern Sports Centre and highway improvement - but it’s the respect he sees for himself and Bond in the community that he values the most.
“Shirley and I did a poll in the community last June and we had overwhelming support,” Bell said. “Even those that identified themselves as people who were going to vote for the NDP overwhelmingly said that we were doing a good job. I think what we were able to do in the community was take the negativity out of politics.”
Within the next couple of days, the Liberal party is expected announce a process for a nomination race. With less than three months to go before the May election, there likely won’t be any time to sign up new members so those already registered will be the ones choosing the next candidate.
“We’re looking forward to having a great new healthy candidate,” Bell said, noting the process could take as long as three weeks if there’s a contested nomination.
“I can tell you that I will be personally kicking their butt all the way down to Victoria,” he said.
In addition to helping his successor against NDP hopeful Bobby Depak, Bell said he will also help Bond who’s expected to face a tough challenge from NDP candidate Sherry Ogasawara.
“I want us to win both seats, not one,” he said. “Shirley’s seat has generally been the tougher seat so I intended to be 20 pounds lighter and five years older by the time we get through this.”
Bell has no firm career or personal plans when his term expires after the election, short of doing all he can to take care of his health. Bell and his wife have three children and recently welcomed a new addition to their family.
“I have a brand new grandson, he’s nine months old and I want to see him when he’s 29 and 39, so I need to make sure I deal with this,” he said.
© Copyright 2013