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Greg Thompson says he'll continue serving as MP for New Brunswick Southwest until the next federal election. ((CBC))

Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson announced Saturday that he was resigning from the Conservative federal cabinet effective immediately, setting the stage for a cabinet shuffle.

"I have reached that point in my life where I just know it is time to move on," Thompson, 62, said in a statement released on Saturday morning.

Health was not a factor in his resignation, he told the Saint John Telegraph-Journal in an interview. Several years ago, he survived a near fatal bout of cancer.

Thompson said he would remain sitting as MP for New Brunswick Southwest until the next federal election, but will not run again. He told CBC he wants to spend more time at home with his family, but did not rule out the possibility of a Senate appointment.

"At some point maybe I might consider that, but not now," he said.

"You know, maybe in two or three years' time … if a position was offered to me, I might consider it. But at this point, I didn't retire as a cabinet minister to go to the Senate. I mean, that's just not part of the game plan."

'There is a limit to physically how long you can do this job and maintain the high level of performance that I expect of myself.'— Greg Thompson

Thompson said his decision to retire was a difficult one because he has enjoyed his political career, particularly being able to make a difference for Canadian veterans.

"Well it's always tough because I mean I'm leaving a job that I love, I'm leaving a portfolio that I love — because I'm 62 years old and I guess I mean I'm realizing that I'm not getting any younger.

"And there is a limit to physically how long you can do this job and maintain the high level of performance that I expect of myself."

'Champion' of veterans

In his statement, Thompson thanked Prime Minister Stephen Harper "for the privilege of serving in cabinet and his confidence in my ability to represent our veterans and their families."

Harper issued a statement later in the day, saying Thompson had worked hard as "true champion" of Canada's veterans.

"I respect his personal decision and wish him and his family well," the prime minister said.

A former teacher and financial planner, Thompson said he hoped leaving cabinet while Parliament is prorogued will give the new Veterans Affairs minister a chance to learn the portfolio before a new session begins.

He also hoped his decision would allow time for potential candidates to seek the Conservative nomination in his riding of New Brunswick Southwest.

Tories have dominated the political landscape in the large, rural riding since 1968, winning every election except one in 1993.

Thompson, who grew up on a small dairy farm in New Brunswick, was first elected to federal office in 1988 and has served as MP since 1997.

He was appointed minister of Veterans Affairs in 2006. He is one of only two ministers to hold the same portfolio for the four years the Conservative government has been in office. The other is Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

One of Thompson's most recent public events as a cabinet minister was the official opening of a new border crossing between his home town of St. Stephen, N.B., and Calais, Maine, on Jan. 8.

The bridge, which crosses the St. Croix River, is the third international crossing between St. Stephen and Calais. The $93-million project began 10 years ago.

Thompson and his wife Linda have two sons.