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Rookie Liberal MP Ted Hsu won’t run for re-election citing family balance

Liberal MP Ted Hsu in Ottawa on May 10, 2011.

Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

A rising star in the House of Commons is quitting after a single term, blaming the difficulties of having a family life while in office for his decision to step away from politics.

Liberal MP Ted Hsu built a strong reputation in Ottawa, but the 50-year-old said the prolonged absences from his home in Kingston, where he has two daughters aged 4 and 11, quickly became too much of a burden.

He said that "all families are different," and that other MPs can fulfill their political duties and have personal lives, but that he and his wife did not find a way to achieve the proper balance.

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Mr. Hsu said he will serve out his term, but will not run in next year's general election.

"I will treasure every day that I have left in the remaining year to work as MP," Mr. Hsu said in an interview. "It's a job that I still love very much, and I wish that I could go on to do it. But I also love my family and I have to think of the overall balance."

Mr. Hsu said it would be easier for MPs if the House of Commons did not sit on Fridays, and that electronic voting would allow them to fulfill their legislative duties more effectively. Currently, votes typically take eight minutes to unfold because every MP has to stand to be counted, which can lead to long evenings in the House if several matters are on the agenda.

Many MPs struggle with family life, and divorce rates can be high on Parliament Hill. The NDP has called for day care services for MPs, including for the party's rookie MPs who have young babies or are expecting.

Other MPs have moved their families to Ottawa, including Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Conservative Minister Christian Paradis, finding it more convenient than living in their ridings.

Mr. Hsu said he would like to return to federal politics when his daughters are older.

"I wanted very much to run again," Mr. Hsu said. "There's accumulated burden and sacrifice of the family – and of the kids especially – that we have managed for the first term, but we don't think it is the right thing to do for an additional term."

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With a PhD in physics from Princeton University and a business background, Mr. Hsu showed early promise as one of only two rookie MPs in the Liberal caucus in 2011. Last year, Mr. Hsu received a Maclean's Parliamentarian of the Year Award as the MP who "best represents constituents."

Mr. Hsu's wife, teacher Tara Sharkey, helped set up an Internet and a media presence in the riding of Kingston and the Islands to help him stay connected with constituents. However, he said "there are expectations" that MPs will attend a large number of events in the riding on weekends, further eating into family time.

Mr. Hsu succeeded long-time Liberal MP and speaker Peter Milliken. The Kingston seat has been Liberal since 1988, but the Conservatives were a close second in 2011. Mr. Hsu took 39 per cent of the vote in his first time on the ballot, while Conservative candidate Alicia Gordon took 35 per cent, losing by fewer than 3,000 votes.

Mr. Hsu said his polling numbers were strong, and that he is confident his successor, picked in an open nomination race, will be well positioned in next year's vote.

He explained that his retirement was prompted in part by the fact that if the Liberals took power in 2015, his family situation would be even harder to manage.

"Even a small role in cabinet means more time constraints," he said. "I had hoped to have that responsibility, but just wasn't able to make it work."

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In a statement, Mr. Trudeau thanked Mr. Hsu for his dedication to his constituents and wished "him and his family well as they prepare to embark upon the next chapter of their lives."

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