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Doer decade about to end

Canada's longest-serving premier surprises province with resignation

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/8/2009 (3962 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Premier Gary Doer shares a tender moment with his wife, Ginny Devine, as he announces his resignation during a news conference at the Manitoba Legislature on Thursday.

MIKE.DEAL@FREEPRESS.MB.CA

Premier Gary Doer shares a tender moment with his wife, Ginny Devine, as he announces his resignation during a news conference at the Manitoba Legislature on Thursday.

WINIPEG – Almost no one saw it coming.

In keeping with Gary Doer's way of doing business for 10 years as premier, only close friends, his wife Ginny Devine and their daughters Emily and Kate knew what was about to happen Thursday.

Gary Doer with wife Ginny Devine: 'It is a tough job to leave on your own timing.'

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Gary Doer with wife Ginny Devine: 'It is a tough job to leave on your own timing.'

The last thing he wanted was for the news to leak out. On Wednesday night, the word went out only to those on a very short and exclusive list, only those he trusted.

In fact, it wasn't until Thursday morning that Doer informed officials with the party he had led since 1988. He knew the big secret would spread fast.

As Doer expected, by the time he walked into a 10 a.m. caucus meeting of cabinet ministers, MLAs and staff at the Manitoba Legislative Building, most people in the room knew what he was about to say.

They greeted Canada's longest serving premier the only way they could, with a standing ovation. When he left the room, he was given a second one.

Before he descended two flights of stairs to the media briefing room in the basement, he tried to call federal NDP Leader Jack Layton. While he couldn't reach Layton, he spoke to recently elected NDP Premier Darrell Dexter from Nova Scotia.

Minutes later, he and his wife Ginny Devine -- with whom he had just celebrated their 21st wedding anniversary -- hugged in front of a microphone.

"Everybody ready? Is it a slow news day?" Doer quipped to the packed media briefing room.

"Not anymore," reporters replied.

"I'll just cut to the chase," Doer said. "On the eve of the 10th anniversary of serving as the 20th premier of Manitoba, I've announced to our party president that I'll be tendering my resignation and the time of my replacement will be determined in consultation with the party."

With those few words, scribbled in black ink on yellow notepad paper only he could read, the 61-year-old Doer changed the political landscape of the province. His announcement was the starting gun for a leadership race that will determine the province's next premier as early as next month. At the same time, he immediately raised the political fortunes of the Progressive Conservative and Liberal parties that have languished in the background of Doer's popularity and his three consecutive majority governments.

Doer's voice wavered only once, when he thanked Manitobans for allowing him to be premier.

"I've stood on shoulders of very hardworking, fair-minded people and that has made the job a lot easier," he said. "It's such an honour to serve the people of Manitoba. It's humbling."

He regained his composure seconds later when he briskly, but with a grin, cut off a question about what he will do once he's out of political office, likely sometime later this fall.

"There's three areas you're going to ask me about that I'm not going to answer," he said.

"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. 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."

As Doer spoke, cabinet ministers and NDP MLAs either left the building or made themselves unavailable for one day, at least. As one insider explained, this was Doer's day; no one was to interfere with that.

Doer, flanked by his wife who had tears in her eyes, said he had always planned to step down after 10 years as premier.

"If you ever get a chance in this job to go out on your own timing, you'd better take advantage of it. I've watched very good people leave not of their own accord. I've watched very good people have a press conference like this at the end of an election night.

"It is a tough job to leave on your own timing."

Doer has been elected in his riding of Concordia seven times and spent 11 years as leader of the opposition, under then-premier Gary Filmon's Tory government. Add it all up and Doer has spent more than 23 years in public life. His government is now midway through its third term, a brief legislative session just around the corner with several important bills, including the new Police Act, on the agenda.

It was unclear Thursday if and when a byelection will be called for Concordia to elect a new MLA.

Doer also asked reporters not to pester his wife about what she thought about her husband's decision, and whether it was an emotional day.

"Don't do that," came the warning amid a smile. "She'll get me going. I don't want any of this, OK? You can't ask her any questions."

"It's bittersweet," Devine offered as reporters waited.

Doer had been asked earlier in the week in a radio interview about stepping down, but answered his job was to work for the people of Manitoba. There was no hint he was actually going to step down days later.

Doer explained that Thursday turned out to be D-Day out of respect, not political expediency.

"We had a caucus meeting on Monday and Tuesday and certainly there would have been an opportunity to talk to caucus Tuesday night, but there was also the tragedy of the loss of life, and that is obviously more important than my future."

Doer was referring to the death of Hillary Wilson, the 18-year-old woman found dead on the outskirts of the city last week. RCMP are investigating her death as a homicide.

Doer postponed his resignation for a day to allow Attorney General Dave Chomiak and police officials to announce on Wednesday a joint task force to review the dozens of unsolved homicides and long-term missing person cases involving young women.

Doer always said that being premier is the best job in the province.

"This is a fascinating job. I know so much about things I'm not going to be able to use again in my life."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

 

In his own words

On his relationship with the media:

'I believe you can't be accountable to the public without accessibility to the media. I tried to be accessible, unless I'm dodging you.'

 

Why resign now?

'If you ever get a chance in this job to go out on your own timing, you better take advantage of it.'

 

What are you going to do next?

'I've heard rumours for a long time -- I won't be appointed to the Senate.'

 

Any regrets?

'I feel the party is in great shape, the caucus is in great shape, the government's in great shape, the province is in good shape but it can always be improved.'

 

On politics:

'The old left-right jargon I believe is out of date and out of touch with the public.'

 

What will be your biggest legacy?

'I often believe the L(legacy) word is not an immediate issue, it's longer term... Some of these issues are a lot longer term than what you'll be covering tonight and I will be trying to defend tomorrow.'

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