Canada politicians announce departure ahead of Cabinet shuffle

Thu Jul 4, 2013 1:31pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Four members of Canada's scandal-tinged Conservative government are stepping down ahead of a reshuffle expected next week that is designed to bring younger faces into an aging Cabinet.

Marjory LeBreton, 73, leader of the government in the upper Senate chamber, said on Thursday she would quit but gave no reasons. Opposition figures had accused her of trying to play down an expenses scandal that has roiled the Conservatives.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has a majority in the House of Commons and will not face a federal election until October 2015, but a series of recent polls show the right-of-center Conservatives trailing the opposition center-left Liberal Party.

The pro-business, low-tax Conservatives came to power in early 2006 promising to clean up Ottawa.

But that image was dealt a huge blow in May when two members of the Senate quit the party caucus after improperly claiming expenses, making it harder for the Conservatives to tout their record on the economy.

Members of the Senate are appointed by prime ministers rather than being elected, and critics say that makes the chamber less accountable. A senior party official told Reuters on Thursday that the next leader of the Senate would not be a member of the government.

"We've had our challenges in the Senate. From now on the Cabinet will be 100 percent elected," said the official, who requested anonymity.

Aides say Harper will make big changes to the government soon to try to reverse his fading popularity, and speculation is growing that the shuffle will be next week.   Continued...

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper (L) shakes hands with Government Leader in the Senate Marjory LeBreton after delivering a speech during a Conservative caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa May 21, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Wattie