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OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Industry Minister James Moore announced on Friday that he would leave politics, the third surprise departure from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet as the ruling Conservatives head for an October election trailing in the opinion polls.
Citing personal reasons, including "some difficult news" about the health of his disabled son, Moore said he would not run for re-election, but believes Harper and his nine-year-old right-leaning government would prevail.
"I have every confidence that Prime Minister Harper and our Conservative government will be re-elected, and I wish I could be part of the next Conservative government," Moore said in a Facebook posting.
"With health challenges in my family, I have concluded it is impossible for me to seek another term in office," Moore said.
Opinion polls show Harper's government has slipped behind the left-leaning New Democratic Party in a tight three-way race just four months before the national vote. The departure of Moore, 39, prompted tweets about rats leaving a sinking ship.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird resigned unexpectedly in February, while Justice Minister Peter MacKay, 49, announced his resignation in May.
"One departure unto itself is not an issue," pollster Nik Nanos said. "But when you see a number of departures of senior cabinet ministers ... it basically raises eyebrows in the electorate, because people wonder, Why are all these senior members of the Harper team not running?"
Liberal Member of Parliament Irwin Cotler said the string of departures will hurt the Conservatives.
"These are not only senior ministers, but they played important roles in political campaigns. They're respected people," Cotler told reporters.
Moore, despite his relatively young age, was considered a Conservative heavyweight and is the senior minister in the Pacific Coast province of British Columbia, where the party is in a tight three-way battle. He was just 24 when he won his seat in 2000, the youngest member of parliament ever elected there.
Moore had also been seen as a potential contender for the leadership of the party once Harper, 56, leaves.
"Losing a key guy who's been part of this thing from the very beginning, in one of the regions that's going to be the most important in deciding the next election, can't be good," Ipsos Public Affairs pollster Darrell Bricker said.
British Columbia is an important battleground in the October vote, and the loss of Harper's lieutenant there could be costly.
"At this point we're really unsure who is going to play that role in B.C. for the Conservatives. There's not really that many candidates," said Rémi Léger, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Simon Fraser University.
A spokesman for Harper thanked Moore for his service and said Moore would remain in his cabinet role until the election.
"As the minister's statement makes clear, he has a special-needs son who is facing health issues. We fully understand his need to spend more time with his family and wish the minister, his wife, Courtney, and his son, Spencer, well," the spokesman said.
Moore favored increased energy development in British Columbia, but in 2012 fiercely criticized the environmental record of Enbridge Inc, which is seeking to build an oil pipeline from Alberta's oil sands to the Pacific Coast.
Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Vancouver; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Leslie Adler, Grant McCool