Another high-profile member of Stephen Harper's inner circle is leaving the Prime Minister's Office as the minority Conservative government readies for a possible fall election.
Carolyn Stewart-Olsen, a veteran of Mr. Harper's office, has worked for him for more than seven years - ever since he ran for the Canadian Alliance leadership - and the most recent PMO post for this senior adviser was director of strategic communication.
One of Mr. Harper's longest-serving aides, the intensely loyal Ms. Stewart-Olsen functioned as a gatekeeper for her boss for many years as other staff came and left.
"Stephen is not the easiest guy to work for. He takes a lot of handling sometimes. And Carolyn, she was good at that," said University of Calgary political scientist Tom Flanagan, a former Conservative campaign adviser.
Ms. Stewart-Olsen, a former emergency room nurse, is the second senior communications staffer in recent days to prepare their exit from the Prime Minister's Office. Director of communications Kory Teneycke is also leaving for a job in the private sector after more than a year in the post.
Her departure further reduces the number of long-time Harper aides still serving with the Prime Minister. One of the remaining few is principal secretary Ray Novak.
Conservative insiders played down the timing of these departures, saying that midsummer - among the quietest periods on Ottawa's political calendar - is an ideal time for exits because it minimizes disruption. The government is also using this relative lull in the volatile schedule of a minority Parliament to shuffle ministers' offices and fill job vacancies for chiefs of staff.
"In minority parliaments, people transition in the summer. It's the one time of year you can do it and not screw over the government," one senior Conservative said.
Nevertheless, the Tories are heading into choppy political waters and will require a full complement of veteran staffers. Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, sounding hawkish last week, gave every indication he wants to bring down the Harper government this fall.
One disincentive for Conservative political staff to stay on the job is the uncertainty of minority government and the relatively weak prospects for any change in this situation.
Polls currently suggest that the Tories have little hope of winning anything beyond a third minority government, an unstable situation that forces aides to be in a constant state of election readiness.
It's not yet clear what Ms. Stewart-Olsen will do next. She has worked for the Conservatives and predecessor parties, including the Canadian Alliance and Reform, since the early 1990s.
Her name has been bandied about as a possible candidate for a Conservative Senate appointment. Ms. Stewart-Olsen could not be reached for comment last night.
Mr. Harper has eight Senate vacancies he could fill if he chooses - including one from Ms. Stewart-Olsen's home province of New Brunswick. He's expected to consider appointments in late August or early September before the political calendar gets busy.
The Tories are considering delivering the fall fiscal update earlier this year - perhaps in September - as they prepare for a possible defeat in Parliament. This update, which would coincide with the fall report on stimulus spending, will likely include funding approvals for already announced aid for pulp mills and loans to Air Canada.