WINNIPEG - The longest-serving member of the current Parliament and the man who came second in the last NDP leadership race announced Thursday he won't seek re-election.

Bill Blaikie, who represents the Winnipeg riding of Elmwood-Transcona, advised his local party association in a letter to begin searching for another candidate.

Blaikie, who is currently deputy Speaker in the House of Commons, was first elected almost 28 years ago during the 1979 general election.

The 56-year-old ordained United Church minister said in his letter that "after nine elections it seems time to move on and see what else I might be able to contribute.''

He also said he will remain in Parliament until the next federal election.

"Serving my constituents and the cause of social justice alongside my NDP colleagues in Parliament has been a truly wonderful job,'' he said. "I thank my family, friends, supporters and constituents for all their help over the years in making this possible.''

Not a hint of scandal has ever so much as brushed a finger against Blaikie during his years in Ottawa. His working-class roots in the Manitoba capital -- he was born in Winnipeg -- plus his long history in the NDP gave him the perfect party pedigree. Many expected him to win the party's leadership race in January 2003 to replace Alexa McDonough.

The burly, six-foot-plus Blaikie had the support of most of the federal NDP caucus. But the job went instead to former Toronto city councillor Jack Layton in a stunning first-ballot victory.

Analysts suggested at the time that his classic NDP doctrine, with few new ideas, might have done him in. Despite occasional flashes of dry wit and an interest in playing the bagpipes, Blaikie's earnest, gruff exterior didn't play as well under the bright lights of TV as the sleek image presented by the photogenic Layton.

Blaikie became interested in politics at a young age. He once said he was probably the only nine-year-old in Manitoba who watched the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debates for the U.S. presidency on television.

A brief flirtation with the young Conservatives at the University of Winnipeg, where Blaikie studied philosophy, turned him instead towards the social gospel tradition of the Prairie New Democrats.

"My gravitating towards the NDP was part and parcel of university (studies) ... and my own religious upbringing and trying to find a way of being political in the world in a way I thought was most consistent with biblical tradition,'' he explained.