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Gerry Phillips, a long-time Ontario Liberal, will not run in the next provinvial election. (Ashley Hutcheson for The Globe and Mail/Ashley Hutcheson for The Globe and Mail)
Gerry Phillips, a long-time Ontario Liberal, will not run in the next provinvial election. (Ashley Hutcheson for The Globe and Mail/Ashley Hutcheson for The Globe and Mail)

Veteran Ontario Liberal Gerry Phillips to leave politics Add to ...

Gerry Phillips, a veteran cabinet minister and Premier Dalton McGuinty's go-to guy, is joining the growing list of Liberal members who are not running for re-election next fall.

Mr. Phillips announced on Friday that he is retiring from politics after serving as the MPP for the riding of Scarborough-Agincourt since 1987.

"I actually enjoyed every day of this job," Mr. Phillips said at a hastily-called news conference. "But it's also very demanding. It deserves a level of daily intensity that I'm not convinced I can commit to for the next four years."

Mr. Phillips, 70, is the 10th Liberal to bow out of this year's election race. But his departure is the biggest blow to the governing Liberals as they seek a third term on Oct. 6. Mr. Phillips stepped in as citizenship and immigration minister in 2007 after Liberal MPP Mike Colle resigned. In 2008, he resigned as energy minister, after asking to have his workload reduced. But a year later, he was back in the job - albeit temporarily - after former energy and infrastructure minister George Smitherman left Queen's Park to run for municipal politics.

Opposition members have said the departure of so many Liberals is symptomatic of the party's waning fortunes in public-opinion polls, where they lag behind the Progressive Conservatives. The Liberals have 72 of the 107 seats in the legislature.

"It's a shame to see him go, but it signals once again that qualified Liberals are fleeing," said NDP MPP Peter Kormos. "They're scrambling over each other, kicking their way to lifeboats seeking dry land."

Mr. Phillips, a Minister Without Portfolio, said he initially told Premier Dalton McGuinty last August that he was thinking of stepping down before the election and made a final decision this week.

He joked about the timing of his announcement, noting that it comes the same day that all eyes are on Ottawa, where the Conservative government faces historic defeat.

"I don't think they had any inkling I was making this announcement today," he said.

Mr. Phillips - who was flanked by his wife, Kay, of nearly 50 years and his 17-year-old grandson, Jesse - said most politicians who retire say they want to spend more time with their families.

But in his case, he said, he already spends a lot of time with his four married children and five grandchildren. In fact, he said, he sees Jesse, who lives three doors away, every day.

"I've got to be a little bit careful of not becoming a nuisance," he joked.

Mr. Phillips was renowned around the legislature for his whimsical annual Christmas cards featuring his entire clan. One year, a couple of family members were dressed as the Blue Brothers. Another year, it was Bubbles the Singing Clown.

Beyond the legislature, Mr. Phillips will be remembered for doggedly pursuing the tragic case involving the shooting death of unarmed native protester Dudley George at Ipperwash Provincial Park. It was Mr. Phillips who pushed for a public inquiry when the Liberals were in opposition.

But he said he is most proud of the central role he played in having a 30-metre granite wall, honouring Canada's veterans, installed on the front lawn of the legislature in September, 2006.

"In this business," he said, "there are not many things that are permanent. That might not have happened without me."

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