Jamie Baillie is stepping down as the leader of Nova Scotia's Progressive Conservative Party and plans to exit politics altogether ahead of the next provincial election.

Baillie said Wednesday afternoon that he will remain as leader of the Official Opposition in the Nova Scotia Legislature until a new party head is selected.

"We have made great strides and I am tremendously proud of our collective efforts and results," he said. "I am truly grateful for the thousands of people I've met along this journey and the wonderful memories we've made."

Baillie said he wants to take another job after leaving politics, but expects to work as the MLA for Cumberland South until the next election is called.

"They took me in, really when they didn't know me very well, and then re-elected me two more times. They are awesome people," he said at Province House, flanked by PC MLAs.

Excited to return to private life

Jamie Baillie stood with PC MLAs as he said he was stepping down as party leader.

Jamie Baillie stood with PC MLAs as he said he was stepping down as party leader. (CBC)

He called his decision a family one — if his party had won the next election with him as leader, he'd be in politics for another four or eight years as premier.

"We are very excited at the prospects of returning to private life and pursuing a long, private life together — as we were living before we did this crazy thing seven years ago," he said. 

Baillie said his party was in good shape and would form the next government. 

The chartered accountant became PC leader in 2010 and led the party into two elections. The party won 17 seats in the 2017 provincial election, an increase of seven, and formed the Official Opposition. Despite the advances, Baillie soon started talking about stepping down as leader

He said he had hoped to at least reduce the Liberals to a minority government, but they retained their majority. 

The PC Party's executive will meet in the next few weeks to start the process of selecting a new leader, said Tara Miller, the party president. 

Baillie, 51, said when he became leader in 2010, the party was "deep in debt" and had six MLAs. 

"Over the last seven years we've faced very strong head winds because of a lot of reasons, from federal Conservative branding that we wore as a provincial party, to the rise of Trudeaumania, which we faced as a provincial party. But despite all of that, the party has grown from those six seats to 17," he said. 

Nova Scotians 'need to engage'

He said the party got 35,000 more votes in 2017 than it did in 2009, the year it handed the government to Darrell Dexter's NDP. He also noted 53 per cent of eligible voters turned out for the last election.

"All political leaders wear that and all Nova Scotians wear that. I just said the solutions to our problems lie in the hearts and minds of Nova Scotians; they need to engage. They need to stay with the process. Despite all its warts, our political system still is the best," he said. 

The PC constitution mandates that if the Tories do not win government in an election, then delegates at the next annual meeting of the party are asked by secret ballot: "Do you wish to have a leadership convention?"

If more than 50 per cent vote in favour, a leadership convention is called. Traditionally, the party holds its annual general meeting in February.

with files from Jean Laroche