Halifax MP Alexa McDonough, a former provincial and national NDP leader, announced Monday that she will not run in the next federal election.
McDonough, 63, told a news conference at the Lord Nelson Hotel in Halifax that it is time for her to move on.
"It's time for the torch to be passed to the upcoming generations," she told reporters and supporters.
McDonough was first elected to the House of Commons in 1997 after becoming leader of the federal NDP in 1995.
She led the federal NDP back to official party status in 1997 after it failed to hold on to enough seats in the 1993 election, and became the first New Democrat elected to Parliament from the Nova Scotia mainland and the first NDP leader to win a majority of Nova Scotia seats in the House of Commons.
McDonough stepped down as leader in 2003 and was succeeded by Toronto politician Jack Layton.
Prior to entering federal politics, McDonough was the leader of the Nova Scotia NDP for 14 years. When she assumed the leadership of the provincial party in 1980, she became the first woman to lead a recognized political party in Canada.
"For almost 30 years, it has been my great privilege to serve the people of Halifax, the people of Nova Scotia and, for 13 years as a federal parliamentarian, people throughout this vast and wonderful country," she said Monday.
"This is a pretty emotional moment for me. I am deeply indebted to the people of this great city and province for the trust they have placed in me again and again. However, I know this is the right decision. I don't know if I can fully explain it, but I know in my heart that it's time. It's the right time."
McDonough's farewell news conference was held in the same room where she launched her political career 29 years ago.
Joining her at the announcement was her brother, Robbie Shaw, her son Justin McDonough, his wife, Heather, and their three young children.
McDonough said she walked through the Halifax Public Gardens on the way to the news conference and recalled how in her first job as a reporter, she was asked to write a story about an unusual snowfall on June 1 or June 2.
"I guess you could say this is about a walk through the snow," she joked, alluding to former prime minister Pierre Trudeau's comment that he decided to resign in 1984 after "a long walk through the snow."
No retirement plans
McDonough said she decided to announce her retirement now to give her party time to pick a successor and the people of Halifax time to get used to the idea that her name will not be on the ballot.
As for her retirement plans, the woman often described by friends as being a tireless crusader said she hasn't got any.
"I hope I'll be able to make some forays out into the big, wide world around the issues that I really care about, but I have no plans. No need to have any plans," she said.
McDonough said she's not interested in any political appointment.
"I do think there's such a thing as a politician staying on too long. And one of the things that I always felt very good about was making the decision to step down as a provincial leader when I did. We got a bump out of it. Stepping down as the federal leader, we made some new gains, and I can only hope that's a trend that will continue," she said.
The news came as a shock to many of her friends and colleagues.
NDP MLA Maureen MacDonald said McDonough was her political mentor and is the reason both she and provincial NDP leader Darrell Dexter are in politics.
"Darrell and I are absolutely involved in politics today because of Alexa McDonough. We were part of that young group that were attracted to her leadership. And so you kind of have this assumption that this person who just works all the time tirelessly is always going to be there. You know, it's a bit of a shock," MacDonald said.
MacDonald said she's sure McDonough will continue to contribute in retirement. McDonough's son Justin McDonough was nine when his mother first entered politics. He said he's glad his children will soon have their grandmother's undivided attention.
"She's always been there for both my brother [Travis] and I, and so we are immensely proud of her as a mother and everything she's been able to contribute to society as a whole," he said.
Justin McDonough said he spoke to his mom about retirement a couple of weeks ago, but she only told him on Sunday that she was getting ready to retire.
In the 2006 federal election, McDonough became the first woman to win four consecutive terms representing Nova Scotia in Parliament and the second MP (since Gordon B. Isnor) to represent Halifax for four consecutive federal terms. That year, she was also the only woman elected among 32 MPs in Atlantic Canada.