10/06/2013 12:34 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Nova Scotia Elections 2013: Darrell Dexter Says Politics Are Still His Passion

HALIFAX - A brief encounter with Darrell Dexter on the doorstep of Max Trzcinski's home in the final days of Nova Scotia's election campaign left the university student charmed.

"He seemed a little more shy than I would expect — not loud, not boastful," says the 21-year-old, who was mulling over who to vote for in the riding of Halifax-Armdale.

The image of the avuncular politician is something that's seen as an advantage for Dexter, particularly in 2009 when his party swept to power and became the first NDP government east of Ontario.

The premier says he still views himself as the son of a sheet metal worker, who grew up in tiny Milton, N.S., and became the first child in his working-class family to earn multiple university degrees.

Dexter began his career as a public relations officer in the navy, where he met his wife Kelly Wilson, and later earned a law degree from Dalhousie University. He has one son, who is 23.

The 56-year-old set down roots in the Halifax suburb of Cole Harbour, entering politics in 1994 as a city councillor and then winning a seat in the provincial legislature four years later.

He became interim leader of the NDP before winning the job on a full-time basis in 2002 and gradually increasing the party's seat total with a pragmatic, moderate approach to politics.

But his popularity with the public was quickly tested when he went back on a promise not to raise the harmonized sales tax, a measure he says had to be taken to turn around the province's poor fiscal state.

And governing in tough economic times as Nova Scotians continue to head west for work has also been challenging, he says.

In a recent interview at a Halifax restaurant, he points out that his government balanced the budget, set up community health clinics, built new seniors' homes and established firm greenhouse gas emission caps during its four years in power.

"It's much easier for your opponents to be able to generate negative messages," he says. "As they always say, bad news travels fast."

He says criticism from the opposition of some of his policies can take its toll.

"It's not necessarily frustration," he says. "(But) you do feel that on those days the opposition could say, 'Look, this is good for the province.' "

In his spare time, Dexter plays pickup games of basketball, and in preparation for the rigours of the 31-day campaign, he lost weight, eating smaller, healthier meals on the advice of his wife.

As he knocked on doors during the final days on the hustings, he said he enjoys serving as premier and a life outside of politics after more than a decade as leader of his party has not entered his mind.

"I don't spend a single solitary second thinking about that," he says.

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