The Pat Bell who stood before supporters and local media Sunday afternoon to announce he wouldn't be running in the May provincial election due a rare aneurism was a radically different man from the one who burst on the political scene 13 years ago.
On St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 2000, the day after his 43rd birthday, Bell announced his candidacy for the Liberal nomination in what was then the Prince George North riding at one of the two local Wendy's restaurants he owns. While Bell had a background in business, in restaurants and in logging and trucking, he had never run for political office before and his highest profile position in the community had been as a member of Tourism Prince George's board of directors.
In other words, he was an unknown and as green a political rookie as they come, in sharp contrast to Shirley Bond, who cut her political teeth on the board of School District 57 and was well-known across the community.
Bell, Bond and the Liberals swept to power in 2001. Bell took his seat as a backbencher and the rapid rise through the ranks, for both he and Bond, began almost immediately.
By 2004, Bond was in cabinet, in a newly-created portfolio called Minister of State for Mining. Clearly, Premier Gordon Campbell was impressed with what he saw because by the following summer, Bell was named agriculture minister. After three years, he moved on to lead the forest ministry, a role he relished so much that the ring tone on his cell was the sound of a chainsaw. He's been jobs minister since 2011, a key role in the B.C. Liberals re-election efforts and a perfect fit for Bell, an unabashed cheerleader about the province's economic opportunities.
Bell has certainly not been perfect. His partisanship could bring out the worst in him at times, causing him to lash out not just at the NDP but at anyone who dared criticize the Liberal direction. As pointed out in an editorial in this space earlier this month, shortly after he became forests minister, Bell publicly questioned the integrity of auditor general John Doyle after Doyle released an embarrassing report about decisions made under by Rich Coleman during his tenure as forest minister.
That and his inability to bring the Wood Innovation and Design Centre project to reality in downtown Prince George, despite promises in three throne speeches that it was going to happen, are probably the lowest points of an otherwise stellar political career.
Political life transformed Bell and most of it for the better.
For starters, he has pulled off something virtually unheard of in the political world. The cruel irony behind his present health concerns is that Bell looks younger and is in better physical shape now than when he was elected to the legislature 12 years ago. He dropped a significant amount of weight through healthier eating and regular exercise, a regimen he maintains to this day.
The physical transformation was matched by Bell's political evolution. In a few short years, Bell became an eloquent, composed speaker, confidently speaking without notes before large groups and to the always combative Victoria press corps. He also grew a thicker skin and became far more gracious about criticism, both of himself and his party, to the point that he could even joke about it.
Although he didn't back Christy Clark for the Liberal leadership, he stood by her and has been a loyal soldier throughout. To no one's surprise, he is far more popular and respected in the community than either his leader or his political party.
While his physical heart may have issues, there is no questioning Bell's heart for Prince George, the region and the province. Even those opposed to his politics have to agree that Bell has worked hard throughout his tenure to represent his constituents well and Prince George is unquestionably better for his efforts.
He deserves nothing less than our best wishes for a full recovery and our deepest thanks for his years of service.