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Graceful exit for premier

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/8/2009 (3923 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Without a tear in his eye, the man who might be Manitoba's most popular premier announced Thursday that he's done with politics, done with government. That Gary Doer, who will resign sometime this fall, could smile and joke his way through a 50-minute goodbye and a list of heart-felt thank-yous is a measure of his undeniable success as a politician.

It is hard in politics, Mr. Doer pointed out more than once, to write your own ticket out of the game and harder still the longer you serve and the higher you rise. After 10 years in power and 23 years in public office, the premier is leaving while the getting is good, declaring the premier's office is the "pinnacle" of public service.

There has been wide speculation for years about when Mr. Doer would step down, and what would be in it for him, with seemingly so many years of governing potentially ahead. In the end, it was simply an auspicious time.

Having been elected premier three times, Gary Doer is riding high in public opinion polls, his caucus and cabinet have a good mix of young, strong blood and the government is solid, having deflected the sting of ample scandals that barely nicked the party. Moreover, there are job offers for the 61-year-old who is still in his job-market prime -- "opportunities," as he called them.

The premier refused to say where he is "going" next, but spoke with the ease and confidence of a guy whose got his next move all sewn up. Among the rampant rumours and speculation, federal politics, would seem the least obvious: A unilingual NDPer is an unlikely candidate for the Prime Minister's Office and Mr. Doer has opined it's nicer being a big fish.

He tacitly admitted his resignation, 2.5 years into the term, makes hash of his harsh words for other mid-term quitters he has harangued publicly. But he was not without a trademark rapid retort to justify his exception: "If every one of those (quitting MLAs) had served 23 years I would have been a lot less critical."

And what of the legacy, the "L" word as he so ingloriously framed it? Nothing on the scale of mandating public education, pushing the flood waters around Winnipeg or bringing the province into the age of mammoth hydroelectric generation. No, Mr. Doer's impact is smaller, but notable, having moved the NDP to the centre in Manitoba, and largely removing ideology from the job of governing.

Having depolarized the NDP, once castigated as unable to operate a peanut stand, he found a pragmatism that has served the party and the province well. Mr. Doer noted that he proved it possible to raise the standard of living for those in poverty through tax credits while cutting business taxes and balancing the budget.

He has also shamelessly mired Manitoba in its "have-not" status, with fully a third of provincial revenues drawn from the coffers of the federal government. Yet even that is the trickle down of what Gary Doer does best: negotiate, find the winning angle. Undoubtedly, without the effective provincial lobbying that made Ottawa open its vaults to flow ramped-up transfer and equalization payments, a poorer Manitoba would have been harder pressed in the current recession.

Gary Doer has positioned his party well in his leaving -- it's time for renewal, he insisted -- but he has also given an undeniable gift to Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen. There is no obvious Doer successor who could hold a candle to the personal charisma of the guy with the razor-sharp mind and wit, wrapped up in a real commoner's touch. It casts a whole new appeal and prospect to being in opposition. As Mr. McFadyen said Thursday, it means a whole new strategy for the next general election.

When it was noted the next election will be the party's first real test in a long time, Mr. Doer insisted that no one should shortchange the power of a hardworking MLA. The test of those words, for those MLAs, is not so far off. Manitobans will see for themselves if Mr. Doer's gracious farewell reflects a political truism or something more like a polite fiction.


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Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

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