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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.
Of the 37 members of the current full Cabinet, 15 are aged 60 or over. Most of the candidates tipped for promotion are in their 30s and 40s.
Separately on Thursday, junior foreign minister Diane Ablonczy, 64, said she would not be running in the October 2015 election.
Junior finance minister Ted Menzies, 61, said on Wednesday he would step down, while Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield, 61, said late last month he did not want to stay in the Cabinet for health reasons.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, 63, who is suffering from a rare skin ailment, says he wants to stay on.
The betting in Ottawa is that Flaherty will keep his job, at least until new Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz has settled in. Poloz took over at the central bank last month.
If Harper makes a real push for younger faces, chief government whip Gordon O'Connor, 74, Environment Minister Peter Kent, 69, and hardline Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, 60, could all lose their jobs.
Leading candidates for promotion include Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, 45, who has helped boost Conservative support among ethnic communities, and Heritage Minister James Moore, 37.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Eric Beech