WINNIPEG — Canada’s longest serving current premier is calling it quits.
After a decade in the top office, Manitoba NDP Premier Gary Doer surprised the province Thursday by announcing he’s stepping down.
The so-called “Teflon premier,” who has always walked a careful line between cutting small business taxes and bolstering social programs, wouldn’t say when exactly he will leave and what he’ll do next.
“You’re going to ask me the exact date of when I’m leaving, and I’m going to do that in consultation with the party,” said Doer, looking relaxed and upbeat with his wife Ginny at his side.
“You’re going to ask me who do you think is going to replace me, and I’m not going to answer that question. And you’re going to ask me what am I going to do next. Well, I’m not going to watch soaps.”
“I had planned to step down in and around this 10-year period. I hadn’t planned on telling any of you ahead of time.”
Doer, 62, was first elected in 1986 and joined the NDP cabinet.
He became party leader two years later following the defeat of then NDP premier Howard Pawley. Doer led the party from the opposition benches for 11 years.
In 1999, he won the first of three consecutive majority governments.
Having spoken to other politicians whose careers were cut short by a lost election, Doer said he wanted to leave at a time of his choosing.
“I think it’s important that you go out on your own terms as an individual but you also go in a way that allows your party to renew and the government to renew and the public to have a renewed sense of energy,” he said.
Although he recently gave a keynote address at the federal NDP’s general meeting in Nova Scotia, Doer was coy about whether he will remain in the public eye.
“Being premier is the pinnacle of public service and you never say never, but my plans are to move on,” he said.
“I’ve got a lot of energy. I’ve been offered all kinds of opportunities over the years … I’ve got lots left in the tank.”
Federal NDP Leader Jack Layton called Doer’s departure “a shock”, but said the premier is “respected all across the country.”
“He’s done a lot to reach out to all parts of the country, helping to bring the premiers together with the federal government around a variety of issues,” Layton told CBC Newsworld.
Paul Thomas, political studies professor at the University of Manitoba, said Doer managed to change the image of the NDP in Manitoba from a “tax-and-spend party” to one that lowered business taxes and balances the books. Manitoba’s budget has been balance for 10 years in a row.
His shrewd nature and knack for negotiation made it possible for him to work with people of all political stripes, including Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Thomas said.
“Lots of people don’t like Harper, but Doer would never sacrifice gains for Manitoba by having an outraged encounter with Harper,” he said. “He may not be warm, personal friends with Harper, but he knows he has to work with Harper.”