War horse rides into sunset: Alberta NDP’s Brian Mason retiring from politics

EDMONTON — Brian Mason, the current war horse of Alberta politics, is riding off into the sunset, saying it’s time to go after almost 30 years in public life.

“There’s always more to do and things you’d like to do,” Mason, the NDP’s transportation minister and government house leader, said Wednesday at the legislature.

“But at some point you just have to say, ‘I’m at that point in my life where the right thing for me to do is hang up my spurs.’”

Mason said he will stay on in his portfolios until the election writ drops sometime next spring.

The 64-year-old member for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood is the longest-serving current member of the legislature.

He will be remembered as a politician with a stiletto sharp wit and a keen eye for the political jugular.

Mason was the NDP party leader for a decade, stepping aside in 2014 to launch a race that saw fellow MLA Rachel Notley become leader and then, in a stunning upset, win the 2015 provincial election.

Mason said his greatest day in the house was after the election when he walked in, not on the opposition side, but sat on the government benches.

“I knew some political party would beat the (Progressive) Conservatives. I wasn’t convinced it was going to be us, quite frankly. The fact that that happened was a really wonderful development,” he said.

“I actually considered not running last time (in 2015) and thank goodness I did. I would have just been kicking myself for four years.”

He said that he takes pride during his government years in getting infrastructure projects going, including roads, bridges, a cancer centre in Calgary and a new hospital in Edmonton.

He said governing is more satisfying but a lot more work.

“In opposition, you can have a news conference at 11 o’clock in the morning. You can crap all over the government (and) you can go home for lunch. You’re done for the day. This is much, much more difficult.”

The former bus driver and Edmonton city councillor leaves with an unblemished campaign record.

He served 11 years on city council, starting in 1989, before jumping to the provincial NDP in 2000. He is in his fifth full term as an MLA.

As a municipal councillor he fought for, and got, recreational facilities, a library and health clinics built in a north Edmonton ward that had previously been known for its jail and landfill.

As NDP opposition leader, he made a name for himself battling a string of Progressive Conservative premiers starting with Ralph Klein, all the while refining the art of political theatre.

When the Tories suggested Albertans chilled by high heating bills put on sweaters, he and fellow NDPer Raj Pannu sat in the house during question period and knitted.

When Klein declined to debate health privatization on the campaign trail, citing its complexity, Mason presented him with a pamphlet titled Health Care for Dummies.

Mason said opposition-led challenges to government health care privatization plans preserved the public system that remains today.

He mentored Notley before finally persuading her in 2014 to run for the top job.

Notley, speaking in Calgary, lauded Mason for his work.

 

Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS Alberta Government House Leader Brian Mason speaks during a press conference in Edmonton on Wednesday. Alberta Government House Leader Brian Mason announces at the legislature Wednesday he will not be running in the spring 2019 general election. When he leaves next year it will end almost 30 years in public life for the longest current member of the legislature.

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