MP Jim Abbott, right, speaks with Prime Minister Stephen Harper as he arrives at a gathering at the Canadian Rockies International Airport in Cranbrook, B.C., Tuesday, August 10, 2010. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)

Jim Abbott: Honourable, tuned in, undefeated

Tributes to the late Kootenay-Columbia MP, including from former Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Former Member of Parliament Jim Abbott, who served the riding of Kootenay-Columbia for almost two decades, has died.

Abbott, 77, passed away Sunday, July 26. He is considered a cornerstone of the local Conservative movement, was an original member of the Reform Party of Canada when that party formed and broke into Parliament, and was well-respected across all party lines.

“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,” Abbott told Black Press in an interview in 2011, when he retired, undefeated.

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who in 2011 came out to Fort Steele for Abbott’s retirement party, offered his condolences.

“Laureen and I are deeply saddened to learn of Jim Abbott’s passing,” Harper wrote, via Twitter. “Jim was a close colleague, a friend of 30 years, and a great Canadian. Elected an impressive six times, Jim was a truly dedicated and committed MP. Our thoughts and prayers are with Jeannette and all of Jim’s family.”

Abbott was first elected as a member of the Reform Party of Canada in 1993, the Reform Party’s break-out election. He was re-elected as a Reformer in 1997, and again in 2000, as a member of the Canadian Alliance Party, a merger of the Conservative Party and Reform.

He was re-elected again in 2004, with the newly amalgamated Conservative Party, and again in 2006, when the Conservatives took power with a minority government. Abbott’s last election was 2006. In each election, Abbott was elected with huge percentages of the local vote — as high as 68 per cent (in 2000) and as low as 52 per cent (2004).

Before retiring, Abbott was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Cooperation. In October, 2007, he was sworn in as a member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada,and as such was entitled to the style “The Honourable” for life. On June 30, 2010, being the representative of Canada, he went to the inauguration of President Benign Aquino III in Manila, Philippines.

“Jim Abbott was someone for whom the term ‘Honourable’ actually described the person,” said former Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett, Abbott’s friend and political colleague. “His personal ethics were beyond reproach.”

Bennett and Abbott collaborated together on issues involving the Province and the federal government, such as the proposed Flathead Park, grizzly bears, and many other issues.

“When we were both serving, we spoke at least once a week. I believe our collaboration was a model for provincial and federal politicians,” Bennett added.

The former provincial cabinet minister said Abbott was the most honest politician he ever knew.

“It was an honour to be his friend and I believe the world is now not as good a place without Jim,” Bennett said. “He called me only a few days ago from the ICU. Now, I believe it was to say goodbye. We had a wonderful conversation with some good laughs. I will miss him a lot.”

F.J. Hurtak, a friend of Abbott’s who served on his campaign teams over the years, said Abbott was a true friend of the Kootenays and the constituency in general.

“He was probably the most astute and tuned in politician that I’ve ever met. I was honored to be on his campaign team for many terms,” Hurtak said.

“Jim lived and breathed politics. If you wanted to know anything on the federal level, how it affected us locally, all you had to do was ask Jim.”

Abbott and his wife Jeanette, from Wasa, had three children and seven grandchildren.

“We lost a giant today,” said current MP Rob Morrison. “Jim represented this area with a distinguished level of service and was respected at the highest levels of Government. He represented our area with a gentle spirit and was guided by an unwavering commitment to his Constituents. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

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