NDP leader Jack Harris, a 15-year veteran in the House of Assembly, is stepping down as party leader.

Harris announced Friday morning he will stay on as leader until the party elects a new leader at a convention. A date has not yet been set.

He told reporters Friday morning he would stay on as an MHA for the foreseeable future.

"It's time for me to pass on the leadership, and time for the party to have a new leader and move the party forward," Harris said.

Harris has been leader since 1992. His 13-year tenure is second only to Joseph R. Smallwood for length of party leadership in provincial history.

Harris said the new leader will have enough time to prepare for the next provincial election, which is expected in 2007.

Party president Nancy Riche, who will spearhead the process to find a successor, said Harris will be hard to replace.

"He never, ever has wavered from the principles and the values of social democracy," Riche said.

"And it's a real loss for us, for the party, [and] I think it's a greater loss for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador."

As one of the longest-serving politicians in the legislature, Harris has stood against five premiers: Clyde Wells, Brian Tobin, Beaton Tulk, Roger Grimes and Danny Williams.

Harris, who turned 57 Thursday, was first elected to the legislature in a December 1990 byelection.

He represented the district of St. John's East and then Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi, as it was renamed during a redistribution in the 1990s.

Harris and Labrador West MHA Randy Collins form the two-seat NDP caucus in the legislature.

The New Democrats have never been able to form a larger caucus in the House of Assembly.

Gene Long and Peter Fenwick held seats together in the late 1980s. However, the party was shut out in the 1989 election.

Harris rebuilt the party, and has maintained a steady, albeit small, presence in the legislature.

The party polled about eight per cent of the total vote in the 2003 election.

Harris was a lawyer in St. John's who specialized in labour issues, and had been active in New Democratic politics for years.

First elected as MP

Although best-known for his activity in provincial politics, Harris first made in his mark on the federal scene.

He was one of three New Democrats elected in a July 1987 NDP byelection sweep.

Harris, who represented the federal riding of St. John's East in Parliament, lost the seat in 1988 to Progressive Conservative rival Ross Reid, who is now an advisor to Premier Danny Williams.

Harris himself has had a lengthy history with Williams. The two men were partners in a St. John's law firm for many years before facing off against each other in the legislature.

Harris earned his degrees at Memorial University, the University of Alberta and the London School of Economics.