B.C. Attorney General Barry Penner has announced he is stepping down from cabinet and does not plan to run in the next provincial election.

In a statement issued on Thursday morning Penner said he wants to spend more time with his wife and newborn daughter.

"Spending more time at home this summer, and going on short hikes with my young family in recent weeks, has reminded me how much this job takes me away from home. Now that I have a beautiful wife and a baby daughter, being away is a price paid not just by myself, but by those I love the most," he said.

Penner, 45, said the tipping point came earlier this month when he was asked to fill in new nomination papers.

"There's been a lot of stress and work that comes with the job, and I take that home with me," Penner told reporters in his office in Victoria, speaking alongside his wife and daughter, Fintry, who was born in February.

"And that's not something that's terribly healthy for a young family, to have the father being significantly distracted by not one, but two BlackBerrys and a laptop and phones that never stop ringing -- right through weekends and what are supposedly holidays."

His resignation from cabinet is already effective, and Premier Christy Clark has appointed Solicitor General Shirley Bond to cover the attorney general portfolio on an interim basis.

Penner will continue sitting as an MLA until the next election is called, but said he expects the nomination process to find a new candidate for the party in the next election to begin soon.

Penner was first elected in 1996 in the riding of Chilliwack-Hope, making him the youngest member of the official Opposition at the age of 29.

He served as the minister of environment and minister of aboriginal relations under former premier Gordon Campbell before being appointed attorney general in December when former attorney general Mike de Jong stepped to run in the party leadership race.

In 2007 he announced he was undergoing treatment for a rare form of cancer  and tumour was removed from his chest, but said that was not part of his decision to step down on Thursday.

"It's not my health that's the issue," he said. "So far, so good."

Penner said he spoke with Clark early Thursday morning. "She thanked me for my years of service, and she wished me well," he said.

His colleagues and political opponents said the news came as a complete surprise.

"I'm shocked," said fellow cabinet minister Terry Lake, who is now in Penner's old portfolio overseeing the Environment Ministry.

"Barry has made a great contribution to British Columbia, and I've always found him to be a great colleague, very informed. He obviously spent many years as the environment minister and I've learned a lot from him."

Leonard Krog, the Opposition NDP's critic for the attorney general, also had kind words for Penner.

"I'm very surprised, but having heard his stated reasons and as a person who was elected when I had young children at home, I think I understand completely why Barry Penner has done this," Krog said.

"And I think he deserves credit and thanks for his 15 years serving the B.C. legislature and for his service, particularly as attorney general."

The date for the next election is officially set for May, 2013, but it is expected Premier Clark could call an election this fall or in the spring of 2012.

 

With files from the Canadian Press