John Baird resigns as foreign affairs minister
Andrea Janus and Angela Mulholland, CTVNews.ca
Published Tuesday, February 3, 2015 7:54AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, February 3, 2015 10:53PM EST
John Baird has resigned from cabinet and announced he will not seek re-election, in a move that led MPs of all stripes to offer widespread praise for his commitment to tackling difficult issues as Canada’s foreign affairs minister.
“I will miss this place very much, and many of the people in it on all sides,” Baird told the House of Commons Tuesday during a heartfelt address, which was preceded by a lengthy ovation from his fellow MPs.
“But the time has come for me to start a new chapter in my life.”
Baird told the House that he will “stand down” as foreign affairs minister and will not run in the new Ottawa area riding of Nepean.
He will also resign his MP seat “in the weeks ahead.”
Conservative cabinet ministers and MPs of all stripes then approached Baird with congratulatory hugs and handshakes. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was one of the first to walk over and offer an embrace. However, Harper quickly left the chamber, paying tribute to Baird only in a written statement.
In the statement, Harper said he accepted Baird’s resignation “with great regret and affection.”
“John has always been willing to do a lot of heavy lifting in my various cabinets and has assumed daunting new responsibilities with unsurpassed energy, commitment and professionalism, never losing sight of the fact that he was serving the Canadian people,” Harper said.
After twenty years of public office, I'm optimistic about Canada's future, and about the next chapter in my life. pic.twitter.com/nrvW4HKMoh— John Baird (@Baird) February 3, 2015
Baird has filled several roles in Harper’s cabinet, including Treasury Board president, Environment Minister, Transport Minister and Government House Leader.
He served as a Member of Provincial Parliament in Ontario from 1995 to 2005, before making the jump to federal politics in 2006. He was named Foreign Affairs Minister in May 2011.
“On behalf of all Canadians, I thank John Baird for his years of tireless devotion to Canadians in the House of Commons, in Cabinet and in the Legislature of Ontario,” the prime minister said. “Parliament was better for his presence, the country better for his service. His many achievements will be honoured and remembered.”
CTV News learned Monday night that Baird is leaving politics to take a job in the private sector. The move has surprised both Canadians and Baird's colleagues on Parliament Hill, but insiders say the timing of his resignation was likely strategic.
CTV's Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife said the minister hoped to wait to make the announcement, but the news was leaked, forcing his hand.
Very few people in government had known about Baird's plans, Fife said. However, sources close to the minister said the 45-year-old political veteran had been thinking about leaving government for months.
Baird has a job lined up in the private sector, as well as some corporate boards, the sources said. There are also reports he may do some work for the United Nations, helping to reform the World Health Organization. Sources say Baird pursued the private sector job in September, after relations cooled with Harper.
Conservatives who have spoken to Baird said he described Harper as growing arrogant and unwilling to listen. Baird has also complained about run-ins with Jennie Byrne, Harper’s former deputy chief of staff who is now in charge of the Conservatives’ election machine. They also said Baird has expressed concern that the party could lose the upcoming election.
Baird did not reveal his future plans during his address to the House on Tuesday. He would only say that he was “saddened” to leave his work as an MP behind.
“There is no greater honour for a Canadian than to serve in this place, no greater honour than to serve people who placed their trust in you,” Baird said.
“Mr. Speaker, I stand before you with many emotions. I’m optimistic about Canada’s future as a country, I’m optimistic about my future and the opportunities before me.”
NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar stood in the House and thanked Baird for his service. In particular, he praised Baird’s efforts to speak out against the persecution of people around the world based on sexual orientation.
Dewar also hailed Baird’s willingness to listen, and to reach across to the opposition to get things done.
“I would argue that anyone who comes here and is static doesn’t belong in politics,” Dewar said. “This is a place for growth, this is a place to learn, this is a place to engage. The minister has done that. He found his best footing as the minister of foreign affairs, in my opinion. For that, he should be acknowledged.”
Liberal foreign affairs critic Marc Garneau expressed his shock at Baird’s announcement, suggesting he is unique among MPs as an individual “who always had fire in his eyes and who still has fire in his eyes.”
Not everyone was quick to praise Baird’s political style.
Bessma Momani, of the Centre for International Governance and Innovation at the University of Waterloo, said Baird had such strong control over his portfolio that it led to “a lot of grumbling in the foreign service.”
“His style and his control of his ministry-- to the point where those who have to deal with foreign affairs know it was like Fort Knox,” Momani told CTV News Channel. “There was a palpable fear of speaking to academics like myself, think tanks, researchers, to the media. That’s not very Canadian in my opinion.”
That fear of speaking openly extends to Canada’s ambassadors, Momani added.
Former foreign affairs minister John Manley agreed that those serving in that portfolio have the power to identify their priorities and “steer their department to support them.”
However, he said Baird was effective in “a grinding portfolio” for his tireless travel schedule and efforts at building relationships with his colleagues around the world.
“I don’t think John Baird is as uni-dimensional as some of his critics think he is,” Manley told Power Play.
Rafael Barak, Israel’s ambassador to Canada, agreed, calling Baird a “mensch” in an interview with Power Play.
“Mensch is a Jewish expression that we give to those who stand by their values, stand by what they say and they are not afraid to stand up and to speak their mind, even if this is not very popular, and to be very consistent,” Barak said. “And so I think in this way Mr. Baird representing Canada is a clear example of what is a mensch.”
He acknowledged that Canada took a staunch pro-Israel stance during Baird’s tenure, moving slightly from Canada’s long-standing measured support of both Israel and the Palestinians.
But Barak noted that Baird “is very well-received in each and every Arab country.”
Resigning in an election year may surprise some, but Fife said Baird's timing is likely strategic.
By leaving now, with his ministerial portfolio under control, and his reputation intact around the world, he is well-positioned to command more money in the private sector.
Fife also noted, if he had chosen to run for re-election and the Tories were to lose, a former foreign affairs minister sitting on the opposition benches would not hold the same esteem as one who left on his own terms, Fife noted.
Baird likely considered his pension, too. By retiring now, he is in a position to collect $100,000-plus a year when he turns 55. But if he had sought re-election this year, under new MP pension rules, he would not have been able to collect that sum until age 65.
The prime minister’s office said Baird was not pushed out of the job, but questions still remain about why he would leave after already being acclaimed as a candidate for a new Ottawa-area riding.
Baird's departure is considered a setback for the Conservative government. He was one of Harper's most trusted cabinet ministers and one of his best communicators.
Fife noted that Baird was one of the few people the prime minister could always count on to put out fires and take on big jobs.
Baird supported Harper's bid for the leadership of the Conservative Party and when the party formed a government in 2006, Harper made Baird the president of the Treasury Board. In that position, Baird had the lead role in ushering through the government's first major piece of legislation, the Federal Accountability Act.
Later, as environment minister, Baird helped extricate Canada from the Kyoto Accord on climate change, and as Transport and Infrastructure minister, he ordered stimulus spending during the economic downtown in 2008-2009.
Fife says Baird distinguished himself as foreign minister and was outspoken against Russia's incursions into Ukraine, and openly critical of the United Nations.
Baird also spoke out strongly in support of gay rights around the world and he'll be remembered for that, Fife added.
With a report by CTV's Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife
John Baird's letter to his department:
It is with some sadness, but profound optimism that I write to you today. After almost ten years in federal politics, ten in provincial, and ten government departments, I have taken the difficult decision to stand down as foreign minister.
Let me at the outset say how humbled I was to have served alongside some of this country’s best and brightest. You have continually showed professionalism during my time here over the past three and a half years.
I believe that a truly amalgamated department will serve Canada’s foreign policy well into the future. Change is never easy, but sometimes it is necessary. I truly believe this is the case with the new DFATD.
I believe the deficit reduction decisions we took were necessary to balance the budget and to bring our own fiscal house in order.
I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished over the past three and a half years. We have shown Canada’s strength, Canada’s compassion, and Canada’s values in every corner of the world.
We have given Canadians the tools they need to succeed in the international marketplace, with historic free trade deals.
We have provided life-saving support to people in areas where death and destruction are far too common.
We have championed freedom in those areas of the world where their leaders use violence and repression as tools of the weak and cowardly.
And, we continually stand up for the oppressed, and bring hope and dignity to the people that seek the same freedoms we enjoy. Freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law—those are the values which unite us as Canadians and our roles demand that we project them around the world.
As I leave this department, I hope all of you take time to reflect on what we have achieved and what we can achieve in the future. As the sign on my desk says, “It can be done!”
I take enormous pride in the federal public service, as you are not just colleagues, but also constituents, neighbours and friends.
I wish you continued success in standing up for our values and interests on the world stage, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your friendship, your kindness and your service.
John Baird, P.C., M.P.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird jokingly warns photographers not to take pictures during his visit to the Citadel, Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014 in Erbil, Iraq. (Ryan Remiorz / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Jim Prentice and Transport Minister John Baird display their preferred Canadian university football team jerseys on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2009. (Fred Chartrand / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
John Baird makes his way from the foyer following question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ont., on Monday Oct. 19, 2009. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
John Baird points up towards photographers as he signs a copy of the summary of his climate change plan report following question period on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa Monday, March 10, 2008. (Tom Hanson / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
John Baird fuels a hydrogen bus as he takes part in the opening of the first permanent hydrogen fuelling station in Ottawa on Sunday Oct 14, 2007. (Sean Kilpatric / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Jim Flaherty looks on as John Baird gives the thumbs-up during a news conference in Ottawa, Wednesday March 21, 2007, displaying automobiles that will qualify for the new environmental rebate program. (Fred Chartrand / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Then newly elected Conservative MP John Baird looks on as he takes part in an orientation session in the House of Commons Thursday, Feb. 2, 2006 in Ottawa. (Fred Chartrand / THE CANADIAN PRESS)