Liberal cabinet minister Chuck Porter announces he will not run again

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Lands and Forestry Minister Chuck Porter stands outside Province House in Halifax on Thursday after announcing he will not seek re-election. (Jean Laroche/CBC - image credit)
Lands and Forestry Minister Chuck Porter stands outside Province House in Halifax on Thursday after announcing he will not seek re-election. (Jean Laroche/CBC - image credit)

Another member of the Liberal government in Nova Scotia is calling it quits. Lands and Forestry Minister Chuck Porter announced Thursday he would not be seeking re-election.

Porter, the MLA for Hants West for the last 15 years, told CBC News he came to his decision to leave politics during the Easter break, but only told Premier Iain Rankin and his Liberal caucus colleague Thursday morning.

"I gotta tell you it's not easy," Porter, 56, said outside Province House in Halifax. "I've been around a long time, I'm enjoying my work, but I am thinking about the future as well.

"I'm excited about whatever might come next. I don't know what that is, but I've always said I'm always excited about whatever opportunity might come next."

Rankin told reporters he had no idea until Thursday morning that Porter had changed his mind on running for re-election.

"I was surprised he came to my office, and he explained to me that now is the time for him to retire from politics after a long service in the legislature," said Rankin.

When he was putting together his cabinet, less than two months ago, Rankin asked prospective ministers if they planned to reoffer. Porter said yes. Asked Thursday if he would keep Porter in cabinet, Rankin said: "That's the plan today."

In recent weeks, Porter has been at the centre of a political firestorm created by the Rankin government's decision to re-introduce the Biodiversity Act.

The proposed law, the first of its kind in Canada and an attempt to protect the province's plants and wild animals, was so fiercely challenged by the large forestry companies and some landowners that Porter withdrew more than half the provisions in the bill.

Earlier this week, Porter spoke at length in the House about how Progressive Conservative MLAs had distorted the impact the bill would have on private woodlot owners.

Porter was first elected to the Nova Scotia Legislature in 2006 as a Progressive Conservative.
Porter was first elected to the Nova Scotia Legislature in 2006 as a Progressive Conservative.(Robert Short/CBC)

Porter said his decision not to seek re-election had nothing to do with the grief he faced over the Biodiversity Act, nor had he lost confidence in the leader of his party.

"The premier is a great young man," Porter told reporters on his way into Province House. "I wish him nothing but the very best in the years ahead. I'm confident in the next election he'll be coming back to continue governing with his agenda."

Porter backed Rankin in his bid for the Liberal leadership and said the premier continued to have his full support.

"This is not an issue of Premier Rankin, and nor biodiversity. This is an issue for Chuck," said Porter. "This is about me today and making the statement and moving on and my family. It's time for a new challenge."

Porter is one of a growing list of prominent Liberal MLAs who have said they will not seek re-election, including former finance minister Karen Casey, former justice minister Mark Furey and former health minister Leo Glavine.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said he wasn't sure if the government's retreat on the Biodiversity Act prompted Porter's decision to leave politics, but he said it would be "embarrassing" for any cabinet minister to have to continue to defend a bill so extensively modified during the law-making process.

"If it were me, I would call it a ridiculous embarrassment," said Burrill, who also suggested the nine Liberals not re-offering might also be motivated by the threat of election defeat.

"Wouldn't like to call them rats, but there's an awful lot of them jumping from the ship."

Porter said what he was most proud of during his time in provincial politics was having helped communities in his riding.

"We did a lot of things at home," said Porter. "We've brought a lot of funds in. We've put two brand new arenas up, a soccer dome, a curling club, highways."

Porter, second from the right, is shown at the Liberal leadership campaign launch for Iain Rankin, third from left, on Oct. 5, 2020.
Porter, second from the right, is shown at the Liberal leadership campaign launch for Iain Rankin, third from left, on Oct. 5, 2020.(Jean Laroche/CBC)

The one-time Tory was first elected to the Nova Scotia House of Assembly in 2006 in Hants West. Porter beat his Liberal rival by just 45 votes. He was re-elected as a Progressive Conservative candidate twice before leaving the party to sit as an Independent.

He joined the Liberal caucus in February 2016 and ran and won the 2017 election as a Liberal. It was the largest majority of his provincial political career.

During one election campaign Porter jokingly refereed to himself as "cheque" Porter rather than Chuck for his ability to bring government money to his riding.

In recent years, Porter has repeatedly told reporters he had no plans to leave politics and earlier this week gave a spirited defence of the Biodiversity Act.

Normally, ministers have little to say during third reading debates. Although Porter was visibly angry during that debate, he gave no hint that he was a minister contemplating a political exit.

In the statement released by the caucus, Porter noted, "Representing the people of Hants West has been one of the greatest honours of my life."

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