LeBreton wasn't the only Conservative caucus member who made an announcement about their future Thursday. Calgary MP Diane Ablonczy, who is minister of state for foreign affairs, said she will not be running again in 2015, clearing the way for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to add two new faces to his cabinet in a widely expected cabinet shuffle.
In a short statement issued Thursday morning, LeBreton offered little explanation for why she is stepping down. Her statement said that after 7½ years in the role she has advised Harper of her decision to step down, thanking him for "the opportunity of a lifetime" to be part of so many government initiatives.
"Most of all, I want to thank him for his trust, his strong leadership and his friendship," she said.
"While I will be leaving the position of government leader in the Senate, I will continue to be an active member of the Conservative caucus over the next few years," said LeBreton. "I intend to step up my efforts in support of meaningful Senate reform and also actively back the new strengthened rules we introduced regarding Senate expenses."
LeBreton, who was appointed to the Senate by former prime minister Brian Mulroney in 1993, is due to retire from the Senate in 2015 when she reaches the mandatory retirement age of 75. Thursday is LeBreton's birthday.
Harper is the fourth prime minister she's worked with – before her appointment to the Senate she worked for John Diefenbaker, Joe Clark and then Mulroney as his deputy chief of staff.
Harper will consult
Harper thanked LeBreton for her "years of exemplary service to Canada" in a statement and said that since the Conservatives came to power in 2006 she has contributed "wise counsel, exceptional work ethic, and unrivalled institutional knowledge, and in so doing has made a tremendous contribution to our government."
Harper said he will consult with Conservatives in the Senate over the summer and will appoint a new leader prior to Parliament resuming on Sept. 16. Harper is expected to shuffle his cabinet before then, however, which could mean he won't fill the vacancy left at the cabinet table by LeBreton.
It is expected that whoever replaces LeBreton will not be sworn in as a member of the cabinet.
This would be a departure from a long tradition of the government Senate leader being part of the prime minister's inner circle.
Harper and the Conservatives spent the final weeks of Parliament before the summer break fending off the Senate spending scandal, and LeBreton carried much of the load as the government's Senate leader.
The Liberal leader in the Senate, James Cowan, told CBC's James Cudmore he was surprised by LeBreton's resignation and said he had spoken with her by phone. "I think she sounded quite relieved," said Cowan.
He said the last few months must have been stressful for her. "It's been a strain on her I'm sure," he said. Cowan described LeBreton as a "very strong partisan" who was a loyal defender of Harper and his government.
While they disagreed on policy issues, Cowan said he and LeBreton had a positive relationship and that he doesn't blame her personally for any of the trouble that three Harper appointees to the Senate are facing over ineligible housing and travel claims.
Senators Mike Duffy, Pam Wallin and Patrick Brazeau are all out of the Tory caucus because of the ongoing matter and Mac Harb, a former Liberal senator, is also part of the controversy.
Ablonczy will stay on as MP until 2015
LeBreton will remain a senator and Ablonczy said in her statement that she is staying on as an MP until the election expected in 2015.
"Serving as member of Parliament for Calgary-Nose Hill and working on behalf of my constituents and all Canadians is both a challenging and rewarding job, one I enormously enjoy and which has my complete dedication. I am looking forward to continuing to put all my energy and efforts into that work in the foreseeable future," Ablonczy said.
Ablonczy was first elected to the House of Commons in 1993 as a Reform MP, then as a Canadian Alliance MP in 2000. Upon the Conservatives taking power in 2006 she was tapped as a parliamentary secretary for finance. She was then appointed minister of state for small business and tourism in 2008, then minister of state for seniors in 2010. She was assigned her current role, being responsible for consular affairs, in 2011.
Ablonczy said in her statement that because of how riding boundaries are being redrawn before the 2015 election, a major part of her riding will be absorbed by a new riding, Calgary-Rocky Ridge, and people have been asking if she will run again and if so, in which riding.
She said she hadn't planned on sharing her intentions for at least another year but that the questions are becoming more insistent and she decided this is the appropriate time to make the announcement.
Earlier in the week, Ablonzcy's fellow Alberta MP Ted Menzies said he won't be running again in 2015 either.