MONCTON, N.B. - One of the most high-profile members of the New Brunswick government is leaving politics, delivering a setback for Premier Shawn Graham's Liberals nine months before an election.
Justice Minister Mike Murphy, who is also government house leader and attorney general, was considered a talented performer in the provincial legislature by his colleagues who guided the Liberal government through major reforms.
"The time has come to move on," Murphy said Monday outside his Moncton North constituency office, ending six and a half years in public office.
"I want to have more time with my family and I want to reintegrate the practice of law which is something I did for 25 years as a trial lawyer."
Murphy said he made the decision over the Christmas holidays and said it had nothing to do with any government initiative, including the controversial proposal to sell NB Power to Hydro-Quebec.
The plan has drawn much public condemnation and prompted some political observers to question the Liberal government's chances of winning the Sept. 27 election as a result.
"I think that people need to understand that the NB Power sale is something that is not yet complete, that the premier has more to say on that in the coming weeks, and I support this government," said Murphy.
The resignation from cabinet is immediate, while his departure as a member of the legislature will take effect in five weeks.
Murphy said he could have stayed until the end of the spring session of the legislature, or until the fall campaign, but there is never an ideal time to go.
"This is the best time - it's the first working day of a new year and a new decade," he said.
Murphy was moved to justice from health last June after leading a push to impose a wage freeze on doctors, an initiative that later failed.
He said he was proud of the reforms the government made in the operation of the province's hospitals and ambulance system, which include the addition of 150 doctors and close to 400 nurses.
As justice minister he attended a National Parole Board hearing with a murder victim's family as they opposed the release of their daughter's killer.
At the legislature, Graham said he accepted Murphy's resignation with "deep regret" but understood his reasons.
"It came down to that personal decision and I think today New Brunswickers should respect that personal decision," Graham said.
"He's probably missed many events that he's regretted ... I grew up in a family where my dad served for 31 years and I have a lot of respect for what he was able to achieve, but I know it tormented him for the events that he missed."
Murphy is the second minister to resign from Graham's cabinet in the last six months. T.J. Burke left as environment minister last July to return to his law practice, and Murphy said Monday that Burke's departure planted the seed for his own return to law.
Murphy was first elected to the legislature in June 2003.
Graham announced that Bernard LeBlanc will leave his post as local government minister to succeed Murphy as minister of justice and consumer affairs.
Social Development Minister Kelly Lamrock will assume additional duties as attorney general.
Finance Minister Greg Byrne will take over Murphy's role as government house leader.
Chris Collins was appointed to take over as minister of local government.
Opposition Conservative member Bruce Fitch described Murphy's resignation as a real loss for the legislature.
"I sometimes equate him to the (NHL star Alex) Ovechkin of the Liberal caucus because he's the most talented and always scores points when he stands up and says a speech," said Fitch.