Baird unexpectedly stepped down from cabinet, says 20 years in politics was enough
On Feb. 3, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced he would no longer serve the Harper government, taking everyone, including the Prime Minister, completely by surprise.
Speculation quickly erupted. Did Baird and Harper have a falling out? Was he quietly removed? Is Baird getting out while the going is good?
The conspiracies and ‘what ifs’ are still ripe, but after 20 years of devoting his life to politics and public affairs, Baird said he didn’t want to become a “lifer” and thought it was time to move on.
“There is, I guess, a notion, where people become lifers. I’ve always thought it’s good to come in, make a contribution and move on to something else. I did that 10 years ago at Queen’s Park and I’m doing the same now,” Baird told Peter Mansbridge during an interview on Feb. 4.
Baird’s decision to retire from politics wasn’t shocking because it was unexpected. It was the fact that such a prominent minister and popular personality in Canadian politics would suddenly decide to call it quits.
“I just decided after 20 years in the arena it was a good time for me to do something else,” said Baird.
“Going out on top was always an objective of mine in politics, and I’m very pleased with what our government has been able to accomplish, and it was a good time for me personally.”
Baird also told Mansbridge that after the death of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who passed away from a heart attack last year, a man with whom he was very close, shook him up and made him think it was maybe time to consider other career options.
“That really shook me up and it was a reminder that, if you want to do other things and opportunities present themselves, you should reflect on that,” said Baird.
In the two decades Baird has given to politics he has earned a reputation as one of Canada’s brightest and toughest foreign affairs minister in recent memory.
He was noted for his uncompromising character and his willingness to jostle vocally with the prime minister and opponents in the House. He was fiercely loyal and known for sticking to his principles on tough assignments.
Although Baird will be remembered for his tough style and partisan politics, he denied suggestions that he wasn’t open to considering opposing points of view.
“I take on a partisan role when I have to. You know, if someone gets up in question period and smacks you over the head with a 2×4, I’m not a piñata. I give as good as I get. But I think I always have been able to work with MPs across the aisle,” said Baird.
Baird also denied rumours that he resigned from cabinet because of difficult tensions with the prime minister.
“We debate, every year, hundreds if not thousands of issues,” said Baird.
“But I can tell you, certainly in my time as foreign minister, we have been so closely aligned, whether it is Russian aggression in Ukraine, whether it’s on issues in the Middle east, Israel or the war on ISIS, we have remarkably similar world views.”
Baird served with Prime Minister Harper for nine years. Prior to becoming a cabinet minister he spent ten years as an Ontario MPP in the Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris.
When asked specifically what his plans were for pursuing work in the private sector, Baird replied “I have nothing to announce right now”.