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Angelo Persichilli, shown in Ottawa on Sept. 2, 2011, was Prime Minister Stephen Harper's sixth director of communications. (Dave Chan/Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)
Angelo Persichilli, shown in Ottawa on Sept. 2, 2011, was Prime Minister Stephen Harper's sixth director of communications. (Dave Chan/Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)

Harper's communications chief quits: 'I couldn't handle that kind of stress' Add to ...

There’s a reason why most political staffers running around Parliament Hill are in their 20s.

Angelo Persichilli, the Toronto-based journalist who was named communications director for Prime Minister Stephen Harper last September, has resigned after seven months on the job.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, the 63-year-old says he was simply overwhelmed by the stress and pressure of the job and is stepping down on orders from his doctor.

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“The pace is too much for me,” he said. “Unfortunately I couldn’t handle that kind of stress. ... Definitely age is a factor. In my case, it is a factor.”

Mr. Persichilli took over the post after Dimitri Soudas departed last summer. He was the 11th person to serve as Mr. Harper’s senior communications aide since 2002, and the sixth person to act as his director of communications since Mr. Harper became Prime Minister.

While he realizes his quick departure might trigger the political rumour mill, Mr. Persichilli insists his decision is simply a health issue. He speaks positively of his brief time working closely with the Prime Minister.

“It was a pleasure and it was an honour, of course, to work with Stephen Harper,” he said. “In fact, he was the reason why I accepted [the job] and he was the reason why I tried to push as hard as I could.”

Coming directly from a long journalism career, Mr. Persichilli said he found it was a very steep learning curve to be on the other side of communications and to grasp the inner-workings of the federal government.

Mr. Persichilli’s career as a journalist including writing columns on politics for the Toronto Star and the Hill Times. He worked as an editor of the Italian language newspaper Corriere Canadese and as a producer for OMNI Television. His appointment to the PMO was seen as an effort to tap into Mr. Persichilli’s connections in Toronto’s diverse ethnic media community.

But it also generated controversy last fall over the fact that Mr. Persichilli does not speak French.

In a statement released Friday morning, Mr. Persichilli said he was leaving with considerable regret and would stay on until his successor is appointed.

“This is a prestigious position that requires extremely intense effort and very long hours, which at a certain age, are not an option for a long period of time,” he said in the statement.

“At this time, I would like to express my thanks to members of the media at all levels for their professionalism and fair-mindedness in our dealings, as well as my appreciation to my colleagues in the Prime Minister’s Office, to the members of the cabinet and Conservative caucus, and to the federal public service, with all of whom I have greatly valued the privilege of working.”

Mr. Persichilli was far less visible than his predecessors and, to many journalists, it seemed that the day-to-day work of running PMO communications since Mr. Soudas’s departure had been left to Andrew MacDougall, the affable second-in-command.

Mr. Persichilli famously promised at the fall press gallery dinner that Mr. Harper would make an appearance next year – something he was forced to later retract.

Unlike those who did the job before him, he was not overtly a partisan. Although he had a strong affinity for the Conservatives as a journalist, many pundits said at the time of his appointment that it signalled a new direction in tone and tactics.

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