Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, a steadfast supporter of Israel, announced his immediate resignation on Tuesday, saying it is time for a change.
Baird, 45, said that after 20 years working in politics it is time to start the next chapter in his life. He had served as foreign minister since May 2011 and had been a member of the Conservative government from the day it took power in early 2006. Despite reports of tension with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office, he paid warm tribute to the premier.
Baird said he would also stand down as a member of Parliament for his Ottawa area constituency.
A senior government official in Jerusalem said that Baird, who visited Israel and the Palestinian Authority two weeks ago, “is a friend, and we appreciate his moral leadership.” Because of that unstinting friendship toward Israel, Baird was pelted by eggs and shoes as he visited Ramallah.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, when he met with Baird on January 19 in Jerusalem, called him a “great champion” of peace, security and truth.
“You have consistently demonstrated a willingness to stand up for what is right and to oppose what is wrong,” Netanyahu said.
“And this is deeply valued by the citizens of Israel and many citizens of the free countries around the world.”
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Baird said that the Harper government does not support Israel because this would win them votes – he pointed out there are more Muslims and Arabs than Jews in Canada – but rather “because it is the right thing to do. I think when you do the right thing, in the end you will meet with success.”
Baird’s move leaves the government short of a senior figure in the run-up to an election set for this October.
Political sources told Reuters that Baird’s relations with Harper’s office had deteriorated in recent months, in particular over policy toward Russia, but both men spoke positively of each other on Tuesday.
“Last night I spoke to the prime minister and informed him that I was standing down from cabinet,” Baird told legislators in the House of Commons.
Harper listened to Baird’s remarks intently in the chamber, quickly went over to embrace him afterwards, and issued this statement: “It is with great regret and affection that I today accepted the resignation of one of the finest ministers that I have had the privilege of working with, John Baird.”
Soon afterwards, Baird tweeted: “Humbled by the opportunity to serve with @ pmharper. I thank him for his trust, and friendship.”
Baird, a fiercely partisan figure who was popular inside the party, had been particularly critical of Russia over its involvement in Ukraine.
Trade Minister Ed Fast will take over as foreign minister temporarily until Harper appoints a replacement for Baird. Among those seen as contenders for the job are Employment Minister Jason Kenney, Treasury Board Minister Tony Clement, and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, who is a former diplomat.
In 2011, The Hill Times, a Canadian weekly newspaper that covers that country’s politics, asked Baird in an interview what he would want to do if he were not in politics. His response: “Likely working on a kibbutz in Israel.”