After decades in politics, Bill Barisoff is finally stepping out of the provincial spotlight.
Speaking from his home in Oliver Sunday afternoon, the Penticton MLA and Speaker of the House announced that he would not be running for re-election in 2013, putting an end to months of rumour and speculation about the possibility.
Former school board chair Connie Denesiuk was one of the small group of friends and family who assembled to hear Barisoff's announcement. She describes it as a tribute to his career and the many benefits he has brought to the South Okanagan over his years in office.
"When I put my name forward to run in the 2005 provincial general election, I did so with the intent that if successfully re-elected it would serve as my final term in public office," said Barisoff in a release after the event. As 2009 neared, however, Barisoff said that many projects were nearing reality, but not having reached ground-breaking stage. Among them, he said, was the Okanagan College expansion and the Penticton pool project. Okanagan Falls was very close but still yet to receive final funding approval for the important sewer expansion and relocation project, he continued, and the Skaha Bluffs Provincial park was still only an idea in progress at that point.
"With so many important pending projects on the go I made the decision to run in the 2009 provincial general election that unfortunately became the nastiest of my entire political career," he said. Despite B.C.'s rapidly deteriorating financial situation and fragile global economic environment making it difficult to ensure that those projects moved forward, Barisoff said they are all now a reality.
"There also comes a time when it must come to an end and the torch must be passed on to the next generation of leaders who share the same passion to make a difference in the communities we serve," said Barisoff. "I have enjoyed an incredible journey in my time as a Member of the Legislative assembly."
Though riding boundaries have changed since he was first elected, Barisoff has held a South Okanagan riding for the B.C. Liberal Party since 1996, when he defeated NDP incumbent Bill Barlee by a narrow margin to take the Okanagan Boundary riding. Barisoff was re-elected in the Liberal sweep of 2001, then again in 2005 and 2009.
As a member of the ruling Liberals, Barisoff served as Minister of Provincial Revenue and Minister of Water, Land and Air Protection before taking over as Speaker of the House in 2005, a position he has held since. Prior to that, while in opposition, Barisoff held a variety of critic roles, including agriculture, transportation and highways and aboriginal affairs.
Born and raised in Oliver, Barisoff owned a trucking firm before entering provincial politics. He also served as a school trustee for 18 years, including eight as chair of the Southern Okanagan school board, was a volunteer firefighter in Oliver for over 25 years and sat on the Okanagan Labour Relations Council. He was also chair of the Oliver Recreation Commission for one year.
Barisoff and his wife Edna have three sons: Glen, Michael and Darren, two daughters-in-law Hilary and Eliza and one grandchild, Kayla.
The race to replace Barisoff as the Penticton Liberal candidate will begin almost immediately, with word of a least two hopefuls preparing to announce their intentions.