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Stephen Harper will head into a potential fall election without the man who helped shape his government's message during the last vote.

Kory Teneycke, the Prime Minister's director of communications, announced Tuesday that he will leave the position as soon as a replacement is found. He is the third person to fill the role since the Tories were elected more than 31/2 years ago, and represented a significant change in style from his predecessor, Sandra Buckler, who had rankled media by restricting access to the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers.

Still, Mr. Teneycke was no stranger to partisanship, having advised former Ontario premier Mike Harris and Reform Party leader Preston Manning. He was also front-and-centre last fall when the Tories' economic statement almost led to the defeat of the government at the hands of a Liberal-NDP coalition.

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Mr. Teneycke said spending time with his family was part of his decision.

"I do very much believe that more people should do these jobs," he said. "[But]they are jobs. They're something you do for a while, not something you should do for an extended period of time."

One of Mr. Teneycke's key changes was to allow ministers and their staff more leeway in speaking to the media.

"But he also gave offices more accountability, saying the [Prime Ministers Office]'would no longer be a crutch, so if you mess up, we're not going to be responsible for it,'" a source told The Globe and Mail.

Mr. Teneycke's departure, however, leaves a hole as the party heads into what will almost certainly be a very rocky session of Parliament this fall. A new communications director may be plunged into an election campaign as early as September.

Mr. Teneycke's decision Tuesday coincided with a caucus meeting at which MPs were briefed on the state of the economy and the possibility of a fall election.

A source told The Globe and Mail that the government has also already developed a comprehensive strategy on how to deal with non-confidence motions.

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The source said the government will try to distract voters from the negative publicity of a non-confidence motion by raising issues that play to the government's strengths.

For example, if the opposition moves non-confidence in the government's performance on job-creation, the Tories could move a piece of legislation on crime and argue that defeating it would kill positive efforts to protect the public.

"We'll try to move wedge issues that play in our favour," said the source.

Environment Minister Jim Prentice declined comment on whether an election could disrupt talks set for later this year in Copenhagen to find a successor to the Kyoto agreement on reducing greenhouse gasses.

"We leave that discussion for the opposition parties," he said.

Cabinet ministers also tried yesterday to pump up the improving state of the economy.

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Defence Minister Peter MacKay portrayed the government's long-term plans to buy 50 ships over 30 years as something that would get Canadian shipyards humming.

"There is going to be enough work with 50 ships on order for every shipyard in the country to be going full steam," he told reporters.

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