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jane taber

Jay Hill left Ottawa this week for Calgary, driving his Jeep Cherokee with a little U-Haul trailer attached full of the prized possessions he didn't want to put on the moving van.

It's been 17 years since Mr. Hill's journey began, when he first came to Ottawa as one of those new Reform Party MPs, representing the British Columbia riding of Prince George-Peace River.

In June, just before the House rose for the summer, Mr. Hill, who plays a senior role in cabinet as Government House Leader, told Prime Minister Stephen Harper he would not seek re-election. He informed his riding association last week.

Although his political trip has not always been smooth, it has ended the way he has chosen - on his terms and his own time. His exit has been made slightly easier, perhaps, by the fact that he leaves with a $110,269 annual pension, according to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Still, his exit strategy is one that other politicians might want to consider.

"Seventeen years is a long time," Mr. Hill, 57, said in a telephone interview this week from Kenora, Ont., where he and his wife, Leah Murray, were spending the night.

"You want to go out when you're at the top of your game," he said, noting that he has seen "far too many politicians" who have held on too long and left with a poor reputation. (Mr. Hill didn't name any names, but his former colleague, Rahim Jaffer, comes to mind. Mr. Jaffer was defeated in the last election in his Edmonton riding and his transition to private life has been extremely rocky.)

"My dad drilled into my head when I was young … [that]if you fail to plan you plan to fail."

And plan Mr. Hill has. He and his wife are moving to Calgary and building a home. His wife, who is a consultant in Ottawa, secured a transfer to her company's Calgary office.

Two of Mr. Hill's three adult children live in Calgary and he wants to be able to spend time with them.

As well, he hopes for a position with an oil and gas company, especially one involved with shale gas, of which there is a lot in his riding.

If an offer comes along before an election, Mr. Hill says, he would likely quit the Commons. For now, he will continue to represent his constituents, something he could be doing from the back benches.

Mr. Hill's announcement will likely trigger a mini-shuffle as Mr. Harper has previously replaced ministers who announce publicly they are not seeking re-election. Mr. Hill is okay with that; he's ready for a change just as he was in 1993.

Mr. Hill had been a farmer for 19 years when he got into politics, never expecting that as a member of the fledgling Reform Party caucus he would ever find himself in government or around the cabinet table.

But he did, serving the past several years as Government House Leader, a job he describes as high-stress, having to push through the government's agenda in a highly charged minority Parliament.

In making this decision, Mr. Hill leaves only a handful of colleagues first elected in 1993 as Reformers, including Mr. Harper. And he joins a group of very senior MPs who have over the past few months announced or hinted they will not run in the next election, including House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken.

Looking back, Mr. Hill said, the highlight of his time in Ottawa was being in government.

"The worst day in government is far better than the best year in opposition," he said.

Indeed, opposition was at times very difficult, especially after the 2000 election when he was part of a group of MPs who left the Canadian Alliance, protesting against Stockwell Day's leadership, and joined forces with the Progressive Conservatives. (Mr. Hill and his wife are now good friends with Mr. Day and his wife, Val.)

And even government - minority government - was frustrating, with the constant threat of election, the instability and the hyper-partisanship.

Given all that, however, Mr. Hill said he will miss the people around the Hill, marvelling at the fact that Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale, his sparring partner in the House, was one of the first people who called to say he was sorry to hear the news after his decision was made public.