OTTAWA – Another member of Stephen Harper’s inner circle is leaving the Prime Minister’s Office.
Carolyn Stewart-Olsen, one of Harper’s most loyal and longest-serving aides, has announced her retirement.
Olsen’s exit as director of strategic communications this month is the second departure from the prime minister’s communications shop in as many weeks.
Communication director Kory Teneycke, the public face of the PMO for most of the past year, announced last week that he’ll be leaving this month.
All but a handful of senior positions in Harper’s office have been vacated since 2008, including chief of staff. Principal secretary Ray Novak and spokesman Dimitri Soudas are among the few original staffers left.
Stewart-Olsen, a former emergency room nurse, has worked closely with Harper since he assumed the leadership of the Canadian Alliance – the Conservative party’s predecessor – in 2002. She worked for previous Alliance and Reform party leaders prior to that.
Stewart-Olsen could not be reached for comment but Teneycke said retirement was “100 per cent Carolyn’s decision” after more than 15 years of various parliamentary crises and endless criss-crossing of the country with various leaders.
“That’s an heroic level of service,” he said.
He declined to comment on speculation that Stewart-Olsen might be in line for a Senate seat. Harper is expected to make a rash of appointments to the upper chamber this month.
Teneycke downplayed the exodus from Harper’s office, arguing that most top political offices experience “almost 100 per cent turnover every three years” due to the high-stress, long-hour work environment.
Former prime minister Jean Chretien was notable for the longevity of his most senior aides, many of whom were with him throughout his 13 years as Liberal leader.
But Teneycke said PMO jobs are “infinitely more demanding” during minority governments when everyone is on perpetual election footing.
Summers are the only time they can safely depart without potentially leaving the prime minister in the lurch facing the prospect of a possible election, he said.