HALIFAX -- What happens next?

That’s the question on the minds of many Nova Scotians after Premier Stephen McNeil announced his time in office is coming to an end.

"When I look back, I came into this job when I was 38-and-a-half years old. I'll be 56 in November,” McNeil told reporters on Thursday. “If someone had told me I was going to get a 17-year run, I would have thought, ‘Wow.’"

News McNeil is quitting politics came as a shock to some, but not to others.

"It's a loss to Atlantic Canada, but very understandable and predictable if you look at somebody who’s given so much over almost two decades that he would decide he wants to move on to other things,” said New Brunswick Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc.

"I think he looked at the calendar and thought, ‘If I'm not in this for another mandate, I should probably step aside and let somebody else take over before we have to go to an election,” said Lori Turnbull, director of the school of public administration and an associate professor of political science at Dalhousie University.

McNeil has led the province for the last seven years, leading his party to win back-to-back majority governments.

With McNeil stepping aside, the first thing the Nova Scotia Liberal Party needs to do is decide on a timeline for a leadership convention, and figure out what that convention will look like during a pandemic.

“We will, of course, take into account public health guidelines and abide by those and determine the kind of convention and the timeline we want to select a new leader,” said Joseph Khoury, president of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party Association.

It’s expected the convention details will be ironed out in about a month, but the party has up to 18 months to choose a new leader.

"I doubt that it will take that long, but I can not tell you what timeframe we will select. That's the maximum that we would be allowed to have, but as I say, the board will have to decide on a timeline. It could be six months, it could be nin months, it could be 12 months. It's a board decision,” said Khoury.

Who will take over for McNeil is yet to be seen.

In fact, Turnbull doesn’t see an obvious successor.

"I think maybe the almost obvious person in that position in this case would have been Mike Savage and he's already ruled himself out,” she said of the mayor of Halifax.

“I wouldn't be surprised to see Zach Churchill, Geoff MacLellan, you know, probably put their names forward from cabinet. I think people probably are directing some phone calls to Scott Brison to see whether he's interested. But there's also some people calling for kind of change in the party, right. So, should there be an effort to pursue leadership that would reflect more of the diversity of the province?”

The next leader of the Nova Scotia Liberals doesn’t have to be a sitting MLA -- they could be anyone the party selects.

Turnbull says she’s interested to see whether the ballot is going to be populated mostly with people that have political experience or by newcomers who want to remake the party.