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Politics PMO staffer quits to head up Tories’ federal election campaign

Jenni Byrne is photographed while Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative Cabinet prep for Question Period on Parliament Hill January 27, 2009.

Jason Ransom

Long-time Harper loyalist Jenni Byrne is quitting the Prime Minister's Office to head up the Conservative campaign machine as the Tories gird for a 2015 election.

Friday is Ms. Byrne's last day as deputy chief of staff at the PMO. This move had been anticipated for months as part of Stephen Harper's bid to win a rare fourth consecutive term, but the departure is nevertheless a sign that pre-campaign planning is escalating.

The departure fuels persistent speculation that Mr. Harper might call an early election – to take place before suspended senator Mike Duffy's trial on charges of fraud and bribery, for instance – but Conservatives insist that is not in the cards.

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Mr. Harper said as recently as December that he's still planning on an Oct. 19 ballot in keeping with fixed election-date legislation his government passed in 2007. He didn't abide by the law when he called a vote in 2008 while heading a minority government. The Tories say, however, the law was intended for use during periods of majority government and they plan to respect it this time.

Ms. Byrne, who also managed the Conservatives' 2011 election campaign, shuttles back and forth between jobs in the party and Mr. Harper's office as the need arises. She most recently served as director of political operations for the Tories until August, 2013, when she entered the PMO.

The political aide, in her late 30s, was part of a small group, together with chief of staff Ray Novak, who took over management of Harper's office in the months after the departure of top aide Nigel Wright in 2013.

Ms. Byrne, known for her hard-driving partisan style and a tight focus on message control, keeps an extremely low public profile. She has occasionally made the news in recent years. Michael Sona, the Tory staffer convicted in the robocalls scandal, told friends as the controversy broke in March, 2012, he was let go from his job with a Conservative MP following a call from Ms. Byrne.

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