Maureen MacDonald retires from provincial politics after 18 years as MLA

After 18 years as an MLA, Maureen MacDonald — a stalwart for Nova Scotia's New Democratic Party — has retired from politics, in part due to ongoing health issues.

MacDonald helped NDP after their defeat in the 2013 Nova Scotia election

Maureen MacDonald, who announced her resignation as an MLA on Tuesday, said she still plans to be involved in her community after she has a chance to rest. (CBC)

After 18 years as one of the most respected MLAs in the Nova Scotia Legislature, Maureen MacDonald — a stalwart for the province's New Democratic Party — has retired from politics, in part due to ongoing health issues.

"During my recent leave of absence to focus on my health, I've had a chance to reflect," MacDonald said at a news conference on Tuesday to announce her resignation, which is effective immediately.

"I've decided now is the time for me to step away from provincial politics."

​In her farewell speech, MacDonald said members of all parties in the legislature serve the people of the province with integrity and that she will remain a champion of democracy.

She also thanked her constituents in Halifax Needham.

"I have tried to meet your expectations of hard work, forthrightness and authenticity," said MacDonald. 

"I thank you from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to represent you here in our provincial legislature. There is no greater honour."     

MacDonald said she still plans to be involved in her community after she has a chance to rest. She said she's not sure what form that will take — she has no plans to run for a municipal council seat.

She did not disclose the nature of her health issues.

'It's going to hurt the legislature' 

MacDonald was first elected in 1998 as an MLA for Halifax Needham. She was reelected in 1999, 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2013.

"My respect for her has increased all the time because she's someone who never stopped learning and always has new things to offer," said Dan O'Connor, who was Darrell Dexter's chief of staff when he was premier.

MacDonald has served as the province's Minister of Health and Wellness, Minister of Finance, Minister of Gaelic Affairs and Minister of African Nova Scotia Affairs, according to the Nova Scotia Legislature website.  

"She is one of the very few health ministers who actually made a profound improvement in how people's health is provided and safeguarded," said O'Connor. 

"Many of our ministers simply managed the department and dealt with the organizational details. She's one of the few who changed the way health is delivered in a positive way."

'I will really miss her'

Graham Steele, a former NDP cabinet minister, also spent a lot of time with MacDonald. 

"Maureen MacDonald is very strong, very capable, with tonnes of experience. It's going to hurt the party, it's going to hurt the legislature not to have somebody of her ability around," said Steele. 

"Other people will step up, but we're seeing a lot of ability and experience walk away today." 

MacDonald was also praised by people outside the NDP. 

"I am a big Maureen MacDonald fan," said Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baille.

"I'd like to say she's a friend. I think she has served this province very well for 18 years and I will really miss her in the legislature."

'Party has a lot to thank her for'

MacDonald was also the interim leader of the provincial NDP for three years after the party was defeated in the 2013 provincial election. The party lost most of its seats in that election, including party leader Darrell Dexter's. He resigned after his defeat.

MacDonald stepped in and worked to stabilize the party as members sought out a new leader.

"The party has a lot to thank her for," said Steele. 

In February 2016, Gary Burrill was elected as the new leader of the New Democratic Party.

About a month later, Burrill announced new critics' roles for the NDP caucus. MacDonald was not given a formal caucus role.

Burrill, who doesn't have a seat in the legislature, declined to say whether he plans to run in Halifax Needham now that MacDonald has decided to vacate her seat.

"I think that's a question for another day," he said.

"Today our party and the people of Needham, the people of that seat really have nothing to register except the magnitude of the coming to the last page of a terrific chapter. That's really the only thought we have."

With files from Information Morning, Paul Palmeter

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