Nova Scotia

Deputy premier Karen Casey will not seek re-election

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil's closest political ally, deputy premier Karen Casey, has announced she will be leaving politics whenever the next election is called.

Casey was first elected in 2006 as a PC but crossed the floor to join the Liberals a decade ago

Nova Scotia Finance Minister Karen Casey is shown in February 2020. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

One of Nova Scotia's most respected politicians and steadfast cabinet ministers has announced she will be leaving public life whenever the next provincial election is called.

Liberal deputy premier and Finance Minister Karen Casey told reporters Thursday she decided "within the last week" to call it quits.

The decision means Premier Stephen McNeil's two closest political colleagues have decided they will follow him out of public life.

Health Minister Leo Glavine announced his retirement in late November. He too will stick around until the next general election.

Casey, the MLA for Colchester North, told reporters it was the right time to go.

"The time comes when, you know, 15 years I think is a good amount of public service to give," Casey said during an almost 25-minute question-and-answer session with reporters, following a meeting with her cabinet colleagues.

Casey delivers the provincial budget 2017 as she stands next to Premier Stephen McNeil, right, and Leo Glavine, left, at the Nova Scotia Legislature. (Ted Pritchard/The Canadian Press)

The premier is usually first to take questions following a cabinet meeting, but as he did when Glavine announced his decision to retire, McNeil allowed Casey to make her decision public.

"I'm happy to say I've done my service to my constituents, I'm happy with the work that we've achieved and it's time to let somebody else represent Colchester North," said Casey, who is 73. "I'm sure there will be somebody very strong who comes out to carry on."

Casey was first elected to the Nova Scotia House of Assembly in June 2006 as a Progressive Conservative. Newly elected Premier Rodney MacDonald named the former school teacher and administrator the minister of education. He later gave her an even tougher portfolio, health.

She was chosen to lead the party as interim leader when MacDonald stepped down, after his government was defeated in the 2009 election that brought the NDP to power for the first time in Nova Scotia's history.

There was a falling out with the new PC leader, Jamie Baillie, and in January 2010 Casey left her Progressive Conservative colleagues to take a seat alongside McNeil and his third-place Liberal caucus. 

A colleague, a confidant

The move may have cost her friendships within PC ranks but it didn't cost her a single vote in her constituency. She won the 2013 election with the biggest majority of her political career, taking almost 61 per cent of the vote.

"I felt very respected and I guess if there's one word that I would use to describe what motivated me, it would be knowing that my ideas and those of my constituents, and me as a person would be respected," Casey said Thursday of her decade-old decision.

Of that day, McNeil said he "not only got a colleague, but a confidant."

"Someone that I relied on through my time as opposition leader, but probably more importantly when I became premier," said McNeil, who will step down as premier when the party selects a new leader next month.

"She's the one person that I have always sought counsel of [in] my most difficult days. She saw me at my best and, quite frankly, probably at my worst."

Key portfolios

Since 2013, McNeil has entrusted Casey with key portfolios, education and finance. She has also chaired Treasury Board, one of the most powerful roles in any government.

Casey told reporters she wasn't sure what she would do next beyond spending time with her four grandchildren.

"I'm not leaving this to go to another career, I'm leaving it to go home and spend time with my grandchildren," she said. But she did leave the door open for her to go back to her first career as a teacher.

"Maybe there are kids in the neighbourhood who need a little tutoring or extra help in reading and writing and math at the end of their day."