Jim Abbott’s career advice is simple: when you give, you receive.
“If you do things out of an unselfish motivation, the reward — even though you’re not looking for a reward — will be far greater than the effort you put in,” said Abbott in a phone interview last week. Perhaps it’s something Abbott has known all along; what’s more likely, though, is that it’s a piece of advice he’s gathered from spending over 17 years as the Member of Parliament for the Kootenay-Columbia riding in Ottawa.
Abbott is now retired. He made the announcement that he would not be running in the next election over a year ago.
Both local and national media reported the same thing: politics didn’t leave enough time for his family.
“If you’re doing the job right, it’s not a job. It’s a life,” Abbott said.
“Politics is very enjoyable, very intense and very worthwhile. But after being at it for so long, you realize that you haven’t given a whole lot of yourself to your family.”
Since first becoming MP in 1993, Abbott has had 17 grandchildren.
“The norm was “Grandpa wasn’t there”,” said Abbott. “And I didn’t want that to be the norm for the rest of my life.”
Abbott was elected to represent the Kootenay-Columbia riding six times in a row: 1993, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2008.
He began his career as one of the original members of the Reform Party, saw the party become the Canadian Alliance and eventually the Conservative Party of Canada.
In January of 1994, he made his first speech to the House of Commons, speaking on the gross over-taxation industry was experiencing at the time.
Abbott said that following his election-win he made two activities his priority: to open lines of communication and accessibility to his constituents and grapple with the issues surrounding mining in his riding.
“When I was first elected to the House of Commons, the Canadian public was demanding a lot. The government was taking so much in taxation: it was really stifling,” said Abbott.
“The B.C. coal industry was paying almost half a billion dollars in direct taxes while net returns to the industry were only $8 million.”
Now, continued Abbott, we have so much more economic activity, freedom and flexibility for industry to decide how they want to manage their money.
Abbott is also proud to be a catalyst for infrastructure upgrades in the region.
“In 1993, the Trans-Canada Highway was way, way under-funded. Parts of the road weren’t even up to 1960 standards,” said Abbott.
Having a close relationship with the Prime Minister and other key players in Ottawa aided in the half billion dollars that have now been put into Trans-Canada upgrades.
“Even infrastructure like the water park in Golden or the Grizzly Plaza in Revelstoke or the Fire Hall in Nakusp—they’re all a result of taking the message to Ottawa,” said Abbott. “That is very gratifying for me.”
On issues that need to be addressed in our riding right now, Abbott brought up local organizations that serve an important role not only in our region, but on a national scale, too. He used the Canadian Avalanche Centre as an example.
“We need to make sure there is always an awareness on what can be done at a federal level for organizations like these. The same goes for highways and any kind of infrastructure,” said Abbott.
“At the same time we have to make sure we’re not digging a hole again and raising taxes.”
When asked if there is anything he would do over again if he had the chance, Abbott thought for a moment, but his answer was clear: no.
“Of course, there were lots of moment of tension and unhappiness from different people, but it’s all about working through that and finding a solution that’s beneficial to everyone. That’s one of the greatest rewards of my job.”
Abbott said that the long transition period (he made the big announcement 15 months ago) from politics to the retired life has been a “blessing.”
It has given him the opportunity to decompress from a 24/7 work life to a much less consuming schedule.
The retired MP, does, though, have about six volunteer projects he’s working on back home in the Kootenays.
One of them includes working out an agreement with the Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation to get the trilobite fossils from the Bull River area into the hands of scientists.
Another is to erect a statue in Ottawa that is being created by local artists and a blacksmith.
Abbott has represented the Kootenay-Columbia riding for almost two decades. If his own mantra is true — that by giving you will receive even more in return — one has to wonder what retired life has in store for him.
And perhaps it’s just this: a house on the warmest lake in the Kootenays, time with his grandchildren, family and friends, the ability to dig into local projects without the stress of being a politician.
“I love the people, the culture, the climate and the environment of the Kootenays. It really is God’s country as far as I’m concerned.”
Abbott finished by saying that he has travelled to a lot of wonderful places in his life, but he’s always happy to come home to his house on Wasa Lake.
Associate Editor, The Golden Star