Nova Scotia NDP Leader Gary Burrill to step down once party chooses successor

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HALIFAX — After nearly six years at the helm of the Nova Scotia NDP, Gary Burrill, who made his mark as a folksy and comfortable leader with a quick wit, announced Tuesday he would step down from the role as soon as his party chooses his successor.

Flanked by the five elected members of his caucus, Burrill made the announcement at the legislature, saying he felt the time was right to allow his party to renew its leadership before the next provincial election.

"I am under no pressure about this decision from any quarter or any angle, other than the pressure that comes from within myself," he told reporters. "In my judgment, this moment is that right time for us."

Burrill, who turned 66 during last summer's provincial election campaign, said the party has 12 months under its rules to find his replacement.

"We have ample time to bring a new leader into place," he said. Nova Scotia's next election is legislated for July 15, 2025. Burrill said once a leader is chosen he will continue to sit as the member for the riding of Halifax-Chebucto, although he wouldn't say whether he intends to run in the next election.

"I think that's a decision everyone will make within a year or a year and a half, it's not a decision for today," Burrill said.

He was elected leader in February 2016 and led the New Democrats through two provincial elections, finishing third both times. The party was elected in seven ridings in the 2017 election, which was won by the Liberals, and his party took six seats in the Aug. 17 vote won by the Progressive Conservatives.

Before being elected to the party's top job, Burrill, an ordained United Church minister, had served as a backbencher in the government of former NDP premier Darrell Dexter, from 2009 to 2013.

None of the NDP caucus members was available for comment following the announcement Tuesday, although it's widely thought that party house leader Claudia Chender will likely be among the potential contenders for the leadership post.

Provincial party president Carol Ferguson thanked Burrill for his time as leader, saying his fight during the pandemic for paid sick leave and the extension of the province's rent cap are things that would have a "lasting effect on the day-to-day lives of Nova Scotians."

Ferguson said she would be meeting with the NDP's executive to review the party's constitutional guidelines for overseeing the leadership race and for setting a convention date. "We will be doing that as soon as possible," she told reporters Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Premier Tim Houston thanked Burrill for his work "on behalf of Nova Scotians."

"While we have not always agreed on policy, he has always wanted to make life better for Nova Scotians and for that I thank him," Houston said in a statement.

Liberal Leader Iain Rankin also issued a statement, calling Burrill a "consistent voice" on the issues important to the province.

"Few can match his adept oratory that draws in respect from his colleagues on all sides of the legislature," Rankin said. "His genuine advocacy and consideration on issues of inequality will be missed."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 9, 2021.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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