The 56-year-old politician — who spent several decades helping build the NDP from third place to government — said it's hard to know exactly why people turned against his party, but he suspects the province's struggling economy was a key factor.
"I didn't see ... this kind of erosion. But in politics you have to deal with what's in front of you and we'll move forward," he told reporters after conceding defeat before a sombre group of party supporters at a Halifax hotel.
"This is a difficult time. The economy is difficult. People are feeling stressed and I think when you're in government you become the focus of that."
An avid basketball fan, Dexter looked forward to one thing in the near future.
"The sun will come up tomorrow. There will be an NBA season."
Dexter, who narrowly lost his own seat by 31 votes, said he would consult with the party's executive about his future as leader of the party.
A party spokesman said the NDP executive will consider Wednesday whether to ask for a recount in Dexter's Halifax riding.
Dexter was philosophical about the party's massive drop in seats and its failure to secure a second term.
"I'm frankly very proud of the work we've done over the last four years and we'll see how history judges it," he said.
Dexter, the son of a sheet metal worker who grew up in tiny Milton, N.S., said in his speech that his party had done more to reduce poverty than any previous government.
He also accepted personal responsibility for failing to communicate the party's message.
"It's on me. I'm the person who carries the message on behalf of the party," he said.
The political veteran 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 approach to politics.
His 2009 victory was a historic breakthrough that Dexter promised would be a time of change in the province's political culture.
However, Dexter personal popularity fell steadily over the past four years and the premier began the battle by saying he was an underdog.
Near the end of the 31-day race, he started to refer to surprise come backs by premiers in British Columbia and Alberta, and seemed to hang his hopes on a sudden surge of support from undecided voters.
He also argued his government had been restrained by "the worst recession since the Great Depression" and he repeatedly cited jobs that are around the corner from a program to build navy ships in Halifax.
Among the party's achievements, Dexter pointed to the party delivering on health care reforms, such as the collaborative health centres that bring emergency departments and local family practices together.
Yet the premier faced criticism for not going far enough in fulfilling his 2009 election promises.
Both opposition parties reminded voters that just nine months after taking office, Dexter raised the province's harmonized sales tax by two percentage points to 15 per cent, breaking a campaign pledge.
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