Rivers on Baird - what a smack down.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

February 4, 2015


I never cared for John Baird. I remember sitting in the public gallery at Queen’s Park watching with disgust as he single-handedly created disorder, yelling at the Liberal government from his opposition bench like a spoiled three year old. He was one of those over-zealous immature partisans who liked to hear himself yell, mistaking noise for progress. Even with age and the experience of senior governance, I believe that little spoiled boy is still in there. People like that just don’t change.

So I’m betting that this walk in the snow is all about taking a break, a hall pass, so he can recharge his batteries, organize his supporters and get ready to come back refreshed, if not fresh - after Harper gets the big heave-ho. His first Cabinet role was as a pit bull in the Harris government, oppressing the poorest and most vulnerable Ontario residents during the mid 1990’s recession. As Minister of Community and Social Services, he was the ruthless Tzar of Harris’ reactionary WorkFair program.

As Minister of Energy in the Eves government, he totally mismanage the energy file. He was responsible for Hydro One (remember Eleanor Clitheroe). The file was so badly bumbled that the Eves government had to subsidize and re-regulate electricity rates, which had sky-rocketed to record levels and had been accompanied by rolling power blackouts. And then there was that huge province-wide blackout in the summer of 2003.

I always found it strange to see Baird welcomed into Harper’s Cabinet. After all there were so many homophobic Tories engaged in a rear-guard action to ban same-sex marriage, which the Liberals had made law. It is to Baird’s credit he managed to turn the PM and the rest of the party around on that issue. And it took courage, as he has shown on occasion to vote against most of his party on this issue.

Baird - red tie finger point

Baird’s legacy is a wasteland of de-funded and disempowered agencies and non-profit organizations.

His first responsibility in Harper’s Cabinet was introducing the much heralded ‘Accountability Act’, only years later to watch the Tories become the most secretive government in modern history. Despite his passion for human rights, Baird’s legacy is a wasteland of de-funded and disempowered agencies and non-profit organizations, which had ostensibly been pursuing that very objective.

He was an embarrassment as federal Minister of the Environment. Canada’s environmental agency put an end to undertaking much research and scientific knowledge, climate change in particular. Hear no evil, see no evil – ignorance is bliss. Columnist Andrew Coyne summed up Baird’s job in the environment portfolio, referring to the new Minister as “the man sent to kill the issue”.

Baird was the trigger-man who ended Canada’s commitment to climate change by taking us out of the Kyoto Protocol. Not only was Canada no longer interested in trying to reduce greenhouse emissions, it was opposed to developing serious alternatives to Kyoto. Government policy now included obstruction and subversion of any collective international action on climate change (Bali and Cancun climate change conferences).

Baird - blue suit finger point

Under Baird Canada’s foreign policy underwent a more partisan self-serving transformation.

Perhaps that is what qualified him in Mr. Harper’s mind, to be promoted to Minister of Foreign Affairs. And he didn’t disappoint. One of his first actions was to close the Iranian embassy, to the puzzlement of just about everyone. Baird has been praised for his strong protestations against Ugandan and Russian attacks on the GLBT community, which is consistent with his record on this issue.

But most importantly Canada’s foreign policy underwent a more partisan self-serving transformation. Foreign affairs became subservient to domestic political pandering. Supporting Israel was seen as the key to attracting the Jewish vote in Canada away from the Liberals. There was not a single Israeli military act which the Harper government didn’t fully endorse. And almost before Israel did so, Canada rejected Palestinian efforts at statehood, notwithstanding our official two-state policy.

With over a million Canadians of Ukrainian descent, the largest diaspora of those folks anywhere (except Russia), Canada unleashed its vitriol on Russia’s Putin. In fact Canada was so strident in its criticism of the Russian leader that we were shut out of participating in NATO’s Ukrainian policy (too scary), and dispatched to fight ISIS in Iraq instead.

John Baird will be best remembered by his last posting and he has received a number of very positive accolades, from his staff, his caucus colleagues, opposite members, journalists and even members of the public. It’s true that Canada has climb back a little from those early Harper days when our application for a seat at the Security Council failed, and no doubt the minister has built up some international credibility after four years in the job.

But there are no Pearson, Axworthy, Mulroney or even Joe Clark break-through moments in foreign matters which would merit anyone calling him great. I’ve heard that he was disappointed that his boss wouldn’t let him go further in support of Ukraine, so he is quitting. More than likely he may just be tired of public office after 20 years. Life is short and there are many opportunities for someone who has built a career the way he has. Whatever the reason, at 45, he would be a very marketable commodity in many other sectors.

Leaving now would qualify him for the early (55 years) MP pension before it changes to 65. It is in his economic interest to leave now, if that is his heart’s goal – but I don’t buy that. This is a man who has spent his entire life wanting to get to the top of the political ladder – and he is so close – with only one thing stopping him.

Baird - clenched fist

Baird: He can read the political polls and tea leaves. It is probable that Stephen Harper will not win a majority in this coming year’s election.

He can read the political polls and tea leaves. It is probable that Stephen Harper will not win a majority in this coming year’s election. And it is possible that the Conservatives will end up in opposition. In either of these scenarios the famous Tory knives will come out and Mr. Harper will be on the plate.

So I’m betting that this walk in the snow is all about taking a break, a hall pass, so he can recharge his batteries, organize his supporters and get ready to come back refreshed, if not fresh – after Harper gets the big heave-ho. This was the game that worked for Jean Chretien and Jim Prentice. I’d mentioned that I never cared much for John Baird, neither as MPP nor MP. How do you think I’d feel about him as P.M.?

Rivers-direct-into-camera1-173x300Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking. Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province.

Background links:

Protecting Baird      Open Secret     More Baird    Hydro One

Harper Needs Him     Even More Baird    Post Retirement      Five Facts

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17 comments to Rivers on Baird – what a smack down.

  • tenni

    Now we can easily see P. Rusin leanings.
    Michael Harris points out some interesting points. Although I don’t think the first three can all be placed on Baird’s shoulders.

    After playing a key role in forging the protocols on climate change, Canada walked away from Kyoto.
    *broke the pledge given we gave at Copenhagen to reduce carbon emissions. Then we began flogging our “ethical oil”, one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet.
    *no emission controls on the oil and gas industry after seven years of empty promises. Lots of time for oil and gas, none for air and water.
    *Canada walked away from the United Nations convention established to fight drought, primarily in Africa.
    *CIDA was swallowed up by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Bottom line? CIDA is now just part of the Harper government’s program to turn our diplomats into salesman, linking foreign aid to doing business with your “benefactor.”
    *On Baird’s watch, foreign aid to poor countries has plummeted. Some of it has been redirected to help pay for the bad corporate citizenship of our mining companies operating abroad.
    * refused the United Arab Emirates more commercial flights into Canada, after the UAE had given us the use of Camp Mirage as a staging area for our troops going into Afghanistan.
    *Canada made Mexicans get visas to visit.
    *The foreign service cringed as the government sold off embassy properties around the world and refused to contribute to the IMF fund to assist a struggling European Union.
    *longest strike in federal public service history. The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers was out for six months over the revolutionary concept of equal pay for work of equal value.
    *bargained in bad faith by the Public Service Labor Relations Board.
    *John Baird was positioned by history to take a stand on the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands — and he backed the occupiers to the hilt.


  • Jack Fernihough

    more Liberal Party drivel accompanied by the same old Liberal Party Echo Chamber. Okay, you are a good Liberals, I get it. You will certainly all be rewarded with Liberal goodies. Just hang in there, the pork barrel is on the way.
    Did you really blame Baird for the entire black out in 2003? That one that started in Ohio and spread through the entire northeast? Good grief, this is exactly why NOTHING that comes out of the Liberal Party is at all reasonable. Its all baloney.

  • Peter Rusin

    All partisan bias aside, Baird deserves additional respect for helping to restore our relations with our friends to the south.

    It is interesting to witness Baird being similar to Jean Chretien who arguably also worked harder and smarter than most other politicians during his tenure, and had a similar style of influence in the House.

    In fact, Chretien may have actually been more assertive than Baird in his views on governance, his opinions, and in managing international issues.

    Chretien may have also been smarter except for the damaging and biggest mistake made when he stood up to George Bush. Baird would never make such a mistake. Chretien could have used Baird just like Harper used Baird, except the Chretien and Baird team would have been truly formidable; Harper is too soft.

    • henri de beaujolais

      Mistake standing up to George W.?
      Where were the weapons of mass destruction?
      If only the American Congress had not voted for war. W and Rumsfeld corrupted the legacy of Colin Powell. Shame on them.

      ” The directionless Iraq War has killed over 4,100 US soldiers and wounded or maimed more than 200,000 more, and has delivered a devastating blow to our country’s reputation and moral authority. ” https://usliberals.about.com/od/liberalleadership/a/IraqNayVote.htm

      I vote for people who can use their own brains. Not followers. Regardless of political persuasion. Collaboration will build better ideas than top-down dictatorial regimes (like the Harper lead PCs). They need a change. “Big time” (to quote Rumsfeld).

  • Lucy

    Excellent points D. Duck! Baird the bully, and other politicians like him, no matter what the party, are NOT what we need in our provincial or federal parliaments.

  • James Smith

    Ever hear of the Hon Lloyd Axworthy?
    Ever hear of the Land Mine Treaty?
    Seems the Nobel Prize Committee did.
    While I think Mr Rivers is a little over the top, he is spot on in his assessment that Mr Baird has been dedicated to a very dogmatic and nasty version of politics. You, like Mr Baird, may believe in the dogma of Libertarianism, fair beans, but I don’t think Mr Rivers shares your view of this failed ethos.

  • D.Duck

    So Ray, what do you really think?? As a conservative and one that has NOT voted for the Federal conservatives in the last two elections, I whole heartedly agree with Mr. Rivers (thought I would never say that). John Baird is a bully who picks on the weak. He was the perfect fit for the autocrat Mr. Harper, who needed a bully to keep his own party in line and the opposition silenced. I’m sure Harper was picked upon during High School and realize that he need a pit-bull like Baird in his corner. God help the world when the leash is taken off.

    Mr. Baird’s loud, boisterous aggression, myopic blind loyalty to the cause (whatever Harper wanted at the time) and lack of insight became the new standard for many recently elected MPPs and MPs. No longer is there dialogue and consensus in the House of Commons but just blind obedience to the party’s cause, OR ELSE!!

    Politicians were elected to represent their constituents interests, the interests of their province and their country. Many have forgotten that!! Time we reminded them that they work for us and that bullies are not to be tolerated. It’s what we teach our children.

    PS: Peter, I am sooooo glad I didn’t vote for you.

  • Gary

    Here is a quiz. Without looking it up, who was the foreign affairs minister under Chretien and Martin and what did they achieve? Give up? Wonder why?

    I endorse Peter Rusin’s view.

    • Ray Rivers

      hI Gary – I had mentioned LLoyd Axworthy in my article… Here is more information on his tenure…

      Axworthy is best known for his term as minister of foreign affairs (1996-2000) and for innovative policies that sought to make the most of limited resources following a series of government cutbacks in the mid-1990s. He was widely credited with initiating a shift in Canadian foreign policy away from preoccupations with instruments of traditional state power and territorial security and toward human security campaigns that included and mobilized civil society actors at home and abroad. His notable human security endeavours included the successful adoption in December 1997 of the Ottawa Convention banning the production, use, stockpiling and transfer of anti-personnel landmines. His contribution to what became known as the “Ottawa Process,” and the signing of the landmines treaty on 1 January 1998, led to a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize. Under Lloyd Axworthy, the concept of human security was focused on freedom from fear or the protection of people from violence. At the UNITED NATIONS (UN), Axworthy became a strong advocate on behalf of women and children caught in the midst of armed conflict. His determination that state sovereignty could no longer shield abuses committed against civilians in a global society was the context for Canadian leadership over a treaty establishing an International Criminal Court (ICC) that came into force in July 2002. The ICC and child soldier campaigns earned Axworthy the North-South Institute’s Peace Award.

  • Fred Pritchard FCPA, FCGA

    Peter – what sacrifice? A well paid job for someone with no zero experience? To now receive an extra $1 million parting gift known as early retirement at age 55, while he works somewhere else.

    A sacrifice is serving your country overseas and being shot at only to be cheated benefits when you return home in a wheelchair. A sacrifice is coming home with PTSD and being told to wait months to seek treatment which comes too late because you already committed suicide to quite the noise in your head. A sacrifice is watching your children go to bed hungry because your Government (and John Baird) thinks making $600 a month on assistance is too much just because you lost your min wage job. What John Baird did is hardly a sacrifice.

    On a personal note, Mr. Harper is not the only one hiding in a closet (although for different reasons) I am ashamed that rather celebrating our first openly gay foreign minister, he hides in the closet so as to not upset the rednecks in his own party. Shame on him for not coming OUT.

    Don’t let the door hit you on the way OUT John.

  • Bob Zarichansky

    The good story in politics is that he is gone.

  • Peter Rusin

    John Baird is one of the best public servants this province and this country has ever had. Over twenty years of this man’s solid and fully dedicated work has made this province and country better.

    We need more strong, honest, hard working and fully dedicated people like Baird to serve the people. Baird was not suited for being the PM. His role was to make the PM stronger, and he succeeded.

    At the very least, you know where this guy stands on an issue. That alone sets this guy apart from other politicians and is a sign of strong and competent leadership.

    Baird set an excellent example and new standard of public service, and most recently was gaining the respect this country demands on the international stage.

    I hope Baird lands a lucrative position in the private sector in exchange for sacrificing his life for the past twenty years. The Baird story is a good story in politics.