August 27, 2009 / 5:52 PM / in 8 years

Canada's longest-serving provincial leader to quit

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Canada’s longest-serving provincial leader, Manitoba Premier Gary Doer, said on Thursday he planned to step down, having led the Prairie province’s government for a decade.

<p>Manitoba Premier Gary Doer speaks to reporters before the start of the Council of Federation meeting in Regina, August 6, 2009. REUTERS/Todd Korol</p>

Doer, making his trademark wisecracks at a news conference as his wife Ginny Devine fought tears, said his party, the New Democrats, needed a chance for renewal, although much of the NDP’s success in Manitoba rested on his personal popularity.

“I had intended to step down at this 10-year period,” Doer said. “If you ever get a chance in this job to go out on your own timing, you better take advantage.”

Doer will leave 2-1/2 years into his third term, having served since 1999. He gave no exact date for his departure.

His left-leaning NDP government has balanced budgets despite heavy spending to fight several major spring floods. Sound financial management has contributed to repeated upgrades of Manitoba’s credit ratings.

The economy of Manitoba, one of Canada’s biggest agricultural provinces, has grown 65 percent to C$51.4 billion ($47.1 billion) over the past decade, Doer said.

Doer’s government has also cut some taxes while boosting spending on health care and post-secondary education. But he said his biggest legacy may be establishing a provincial park in a poor neighborhood of the capital city of Winnipeg.

“I just wish we could have gotten more done,” he said.

Doer’s broad appeal across the political spectrum may have charted a new success model for the NDP -- which has governed several provinces but is on the fringes of federal politics -- said Richard Sigurdson, a political studies professor at University of Manitoba.

He said Doer built a strong internal base of support while drawing in other groups with his pragmatism and charisma.

“His values, he feels, are very much in line with Manitoba’s values. We’re a place that has no boom, no bust -- a place that doesn’t have extremes except in the weather.”

Doer’s departure presents an opportunity for the Conservative Party, which has found it difficult to retake government from a popular leader, Sigurdson said.

“All (election) bets are off.”

Doer, who has occasionally been mentioned as a potential candidate for the leadership of the federal NDP, refused to say what his future might hold, other than to say, but he suggested it’s unlikely he would resurface in politics.

“You never say never, but my plan is to move on.”

Reporting by Rod Nickel; editing by Janet Guttsman

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