Former health minister Karen Casey was chosen Wednesday by the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative caucus to lead the party, following the decision by former premier Rodney MacDonald to step down as party leader.

MacDonald, 37, notified the party Tuesday afternoon that he wanted to step down. He became party leader and premier in February 2006, succeeding John Hamm, who retired.

In the June 9 provincial election, MacDonald's minority government was toppled by Darrell Dexter's New Democratic Party, which claimed 31 seats in the 52-seat legislature, up from 20 in the last provincial election.

The Tories were reduced to third-party status and 10 seats. Before dissolution, they held 21 ridings. The Liberals gained two seats to end up with 11.

Casey, who will serve as interim leader until a leadership convention can be held, said she is "honoured by the trust my colleagues and the PC party have placed in me."

"The first thing I’m going to do is to start to tour the province and talk to the people who cast their ballots at every election to let them know that we are a party interested in Nova Scotians and interested in what they have to say," Casey said.

"I think that’s the important thing, that I am prepared to listen. I think that’s a message that has come through loud and clear — that whoever is in government needs to listen and I am prepared to do that."

Casey, who becomes the first female leader of the provincial Tories,  was first elected as MLA for Colchester North in 2006. She served first as minister of education and then as minister of health. Casey was an educator and administrator before entering politics.

MacDonald, who was first elected in 1999, will continue to serve as MLA for Inverness.

He said he has no regrets about his time as premier.

"I've thoroughly enjoyed my time as leader. But it is time to move on to the next leader. I have no reservations about the last three and a half years and the party was very good to me," he told reporters.

"We have a strong party with a lot of history in Nova Scotia. We have been given the good fortune of being able to govern for many years when you look at the last 30 to 40 years. We have to regain the trust of Nova Scotians – not only regain that trust but to work on policies that Nova Scotians want. I've thoroughly enjoyed my time as leader. Now its time for someone else to be leader."

Over the past three years MacDonald's government endured a series of gaffes, including the resignation of cabinet minister Ernie Fage, who was later convicted of leaving the scene of a car accident.

There was also embarrassment over a botched immigration program that was supposed to provide newcomers with professional job experience, but instead led some into menial roles.

With Canadian Press