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Jobs Minister Pat Bell reflects on life as an MLA as he wraps up final legislative session

Pat Bell can still vividly remember the first day he entered the B.C. Legislative Assembly.
Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Pat Bell
Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Pat Bell

Pat Bell can still vividly remember the first day he entered the B.C. Legislative Assembly.

As a newly elected MLA for Prince George North - now Prince George-Mackenzie - it wasn't until he took those first steps into the chamber 12 years ago that he realized just how large a responsibility he had been given.

"The lights in the room, the sound in the room, the furniture that's 120 years old, the carpets, just the tradition, the history - knowing that you're one of just a thousand or so MLAs that have ever been elected," he said.

Bell took his last bow in the legislature Thursday as the house rose on the 39th Parliament for the final time. He remains an MLA and the Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training until the election.

"I don't think anything's kind of hit me quite yet," he said following his final question period Thursday afternoon. "Today, I'm just thinking about cleaning up my office and getting ready to go."

After 12 years in office, Bell announced he wouldn't seek re-election in the spring provincial contest due to previously undetected health issues.

"I think the decision I've taken is the right one to deal with this aneurysm. Had I not known about the aneurysm you would still see me on the ballot and there'd be another four years," he said. "But knowing that I have some health challenges in front of me I think it's the right thing to do."

Bell's final session didn't pass him quietly, as he became the focus of Opposition attention in the wake of allegations of impropriety in the handling of the the bid for the Wood Innovation and Design Centre. He rose in the house on Wednesday to address questions regarding Northern Development Initiative Trust's approval of a loan to Commonwealth Campus Corp. to parcel the necessary land for the project.

It was a gradual rise to prominence for Bell from his first term as a political neophyte where he served as deputy party whip to his departure as jobs minister.

"It's been an interesting evolution for me because it started in a great place where I could get my feet wet slowly and then end up in a more prominent position, so I don't think I could have asked for a better political career," he said, noting he'll still be involved in the public eye helping out with new Prince George-Mackenzie candidate Mike Morris' campaign.

Out of this spring sitting, Bell said the most significant occurrence has been the tabling of the Liberals' 2013 budget.

"There's only one other province in Canada that can say they've tabled a balanced budget and that's Saskatchewan," he said. "If there's a highlight for me it's the ability to table that budget and give people the confidence to say that in B.C. we know how to manage our finances properly and we're not going to leave a huge debt for our kids and grandkids going forward."