Top spokesman for Canadian prime minister to quit: source

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The top spokesman for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is quitting, a well-placed source said on Friday, the third high-profile departure in quick succession from the ruling Conservatives in the run-up to an election this October.

Jason MacDonald, who had been in the job for almost 17 months, will formally leave next week, the source told Reuters.

MacDonald, the eighth person to act as chief spokesman for Harper, will join the Hill and Knowlton public relations firm, said another source with knowledge of the situation.

MacDonald did not respond to a request for comment.

The news comes just 10 days after Foreign Minister John Baird unexpectedly quit, saying he wanted to do something else after 20 years in politics.

Insiders though said Baird had disagreed with Harper’s office over policy and did not think the right-of-center Conservatives could retain power in the October election. Harper has been prime minister since February 2006.

Most recent polls show the Conservatives are virtually tied with the opposition Liberals and would lose their majority in the House of Commons if an election were held now.

Eve Adams, a junior Conservative member of the government, defected to the Liberals on Monday, saying she was fed up with what she called Harper’s mean-spirited governing style.

Many Conservatives though said they were happy to see her go, citing a series of disputes which culminated in the party banning her from running as a candidate in October. [ID:nL1N0VJ162]

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Lisa Shumaker