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MP steps down as House Leader, won't run again

The Member of Parliament (MP) for the Sunshine Coast, Whistler and Squamish has a new health plan in mind - one that involves not running.

The Member of Parliament (MP) for the Sunshine Coast, Whistler and Squamish has a new health plan in mind - one that involves not running.

After spending more than 21 years as an elected official, Conservative Party of Canada MP John Reynolds announced Monday (Jan. 24) his resignation as Opposition House Leader and his intention not to seek re-election in the riding of West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky, citing health concerns stemming from a car accident two years ago.

Reynolds, who was in Victoria at a meeting of the Conservative Party caucus this week, told party leader Stephen Harper in December that he wouldn't be running again and made the decision to announce his intentions sooner rather than later. "I know what it's like if you're thinking of running and you have only 10 days to get it together," Reynolds said. "This gives us ample opportunity to let some good quality people know that a riding that's recognized as a pretty good one is available."

Reynolds, 63, will continue to work for the Conservatives as the party's national campaign chair.

"You don't know when the election is going to be, and we'd better get planning," he said.

Reynolds was the Conservatives' national campaign co-chair in last June's federal election, when the newly-formed party captured 99 seats and reduced the Liberals to a minority government. He had a tough fight in his own riding, winning by less than 1,700 votes.

"It was very difficult" being both a candidate and campaign chair, Reynolds admitted. "I think I campaigned less than 10 days in the riding. [Now] I'll be free to follow the leader around, be where I have to be."

He will also continue as MP for the riding until the next election and says without his House Leader duties keeping him in Ottawa, he will be available locally more often.

"I'm looking forward to it. I didn't get home as much as I'd like," said Reynolds.

Reynolds' political career spans more than 30 years and five political parties in federal and provincial politics. He was first elected to the House of Commons in 1972 as a Progressive Conservative in Burnaby-Richmond-Delta. After quitting the party in protest at the leadership of Joe Clark, he made a name as a radio talk show host before jumping to provincial politics and winning the riding of West Vancouver-Howe Sound for the Social Credit Party. Reynolds ran for the leadership of the Socreds in 1986, losing to Bill Vander Zalm. He served as Speaker of the B.C. Legislature from 1987 to 1989 and as Minister of the Environment from 1989 until the 1991 provincial election, when he was defeated by Liberal MLA David Mitchell.

Reynolds returned to the private sector and moved to the United States following the loss, then returned as the Reform Party's candidate for the federal riding of West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast. He won the seat in the 1997 federal election and served in a variety of critical portfolios, including immigration, fisheries and justice and as Chief Opposition Whip. He was re-elected in 2000, this time under the Canadian Alliance party banner, and became Opposition House Leader in 2001.

Reynolds also served as interim Leader of the Opposition from December 2001 to May 2002, after the resignation of Stockwell Day.

While admitting that he would have liked to have been in power in Ottawa - "The worst day in government is better than the best day in opposition," he quipped - Reynolds said he was not disappointed with his career in federal politics.

"I was the leader of the opposition. Not too many people have had that job," he said. "I obtained the maximum I could in my party and I was a cabinet minister provincially. If I can retire from politics having made Stephen Harper Prime Minister I'll be a happy man."

Reynolds emphatically denied that his decision had anything to do with Harper's proposed new ad campaign against same-sex marriage, adding he agreed with the leader on the issue.

"If that was the reason I left, would I agree to be the campaign chair for the guy who organized it?" he asked.

"Gays and lesbians do not enjoy equal rights in this country," Reynolds said, repeating his past position that gays and lesbians should be extended marriage-style rights under the title of civil unions.

Reynolds doesn't think that the issue will force an early election in the minority Parliament: "If you called an election on same-sex marriage, whichever party that forced it would be punished."

But Reynolds thinks the government's handling of the Gomery inquiry into the sponsorship scandal could force an early election, specifically if the Liberals cancel the inquiry.

Reynolds said he has already had phone calls from prospective candidates for the riding.

Last January, when he announced he would run for the newly-created Conservative Party, Reynolds was endorsed by former Progressive Conservative candidate Dave Thomas, who also served as the candidate's official agent. At the time, Reynolds said Thomas would make an "excellent candidate in the future" and Thomas himself said "don't be surprised" if he sought the nomination in the future.

When asked if he would endorse Thomas for the nomination, Reynolds said: "As the campaign chair for the party, I can't endorse anyone. But I do say he would be an excellent candidate."