The president of neighbouring Shuswap riding said Thursday the days of cruising to a Liberal victory under well-liked MLA George Abbott are over for the party.
Abbott, B.C.'s education minister, was one of three B.C. Liberals - along with Children's Minister Mary McNeil and Chilliwack MLA John Les - to announce Thursday they will not run again for reelection in May.
"In this riding everyone knew George was wrestling with the decision and everyone hoped he would stay," said Shuswap Liberal party president Brian Cowan.
"We don't have anyone (candidate) in mind."
Cowan called Shuswap "a swing riding" that's remained Liberal since 1996 due to Abbott's personal popularity and middle-of-the-road political bent.
When he was first elected in 1996 with the then-opposition Liberals, Abbott beat New Democrat Calvin White in the NDP riding by less than three per cent in the polls. Last election he swept in with a 16 per cent margin over the NDP.
"The reason George wins the way he did is one side of the NDP has supported him in past, so did Greens," Cowan said. "It's been across the spectrum."
Former Kamloops riding president Hoberly Hove worked in the two city ridings for Abbott during his leadership campaign last year in which he came third behind Christy Clark and Kevin Falcon.
"It's a big loss," Hove said of Abbott's decision not to run again. "I thought it would be good to have a premier from the Interior."
Abbott's stints in cabinet included health and aboriginal affairs.
Prior to provincial politics he was a berry farmer, political science instructor, councillor in Sicamous and chairman of Columbia Shuswap Regional District.
Fraser-Nicola New Democrat MLA Harry Lali said Abbott was respected across the legislature.
"On a personal level I'm friends with these guys (Abbott and Falcon, who stepped down this week). I've known Abbott since 1996."
While Lali gave credit to the two former leadership candidates' public service, he said the exodus of Liberals is similar to MLAs fleeing his party before the 2001 provincial election "and the Socreds 10 years before that.
"When you're at the end of your mandate, 10 years on and low in the polls you have a whole lot of people deciding to call it quits."
Lali, a former transportation minister, was one of them. But he said for him it was not the party's unpopularity but his unhappy relationship with new leader Ujjal Dosanjh, who replaced premier Glen Clark.
"I quit because of my row with Ujjal Dosanjh. I couldn't stand by with Ujjal at the time."
Despite the exodus of MLAs and cabinet ministers, party stalwarts and Lali predicted polls will be much closer and the election tight in May next year.
"We had a packed house for Todd Stone's nomination (in Kamloops-South Thompson)," said Hove. "There's a lot of excitement. We'll have a real good race."