Promising a more open, collaborative and consultative style of style of leadership, Health Minister George Abbott formally kicked off his campaign to succeed Gordon Campbell Thursday, declaring himself “the right leader and the right premier for the province of British Columbia.”

Speaking before a packed downtown hotel room filled with supporters and media, Abbott resisted reporters’ attempts to prod him to criticize Campbell directly, but was still quick to highlight several issues on which he planned to chart a different course for the Liberal government.

Chief among these was a pledge to push up the date of the fall referendum on the Harmonized Sales Tax to some time before June 24, as well as a promise to institute a new, higher minimum wage.

In a subtle reference to the anti-HST and recall efforts of former Social Credit premier Bill Vander Zalm, Abbott similarly positioned himself as a leader capable of “preserving the liberal-conservative coalition of old,” cautioning that a prolonged split in what he described as the “free-market” vote would only serve NDP interests.

Relaxed, and frequently cracking jokes, Abbott was nevertheless unambiguous about the challenges facing his party.

“We’re at a pretty low point in the ditch of public opinion,” he said. “I hope the next bump we feel is coming out of the ditch and back onto the road.”

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