John Baird: warm manner, blunt talk

| February 8, 2012 | 0 Comments
John Baird

John Baird

The Conservative government champions religious freedom as a “bedrock” freedom: “Societies that protect  religious freedom are more likely to protect all other fundamental freedoms,” Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says. “They are typically more stable and more prosperous societies.”


In the small ante-room to John Baird’s parliamentary office, you have to consciously avoid knocking over the official greeter: a sizeable statue of John Diefenbaker that reposes on the front corner of a desk.

Inside his corner office is a photo of Mr. Baird in his 20s capturing a warm smile from Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. In a glass case sits a faded folded flag, the last Red Ensign to fly over 24 Sussex under the residency of Prime Minister Diefenbaker. It was given to Mr. Baird by his friend, Mr. Diefenbaker’s stepgrandson, who unfortunately recently passed away. Two paintings by Mr. Baird’s grandmother — fine copies of Cornelius Krieghoffs – adorn one wall. And between two gothic windows hangs an original A.Y. Jackson of wind-pruned pine trees. “Every minister is allowed to borrow one painting from the National Art Gallery,” he says. “Before this painting, I borrowed a Jean Paul Lemieux [a 20th-Century Quebec painter] for four or five years.”

On a desk filled with papers and books, is a sign that reads “IT CAN BE DONE.”

He explains: “It’s just an attitude. President [Ronald] Reagan had that sign on his desk. I mentioned this to a friend one day, and the next day I had two or three of them.”

Newly appointed as foreign affairs minister, John Baird, makes his inaugural appearance at the UN General Assembly in September.

Newly appointed as foreign affairs minister, John Baird, makes his inaugural appearance at the UN General Assembly in September.

Politics is really about addressing problems, he says. He cites an example that illustrates his implacable reluctance to compromise on issues that really count. “

At the G8 North Africa-Middle East ministers’ meeting [in Kuwait in November], we were pushing hard for something about religious freedom to put in the [final meeting] communiqué.” But when he looked, it was missing.

“‘Oh, I’m sorry,” he was told. “It was taken out at the last minute. The text is closed. We can’t reopen it.’” “Well, yes, you can,” Mr. Baird said. “No. We already put it to bed,” came the reply.

“’Well, I’m not agreeing to it,’ I said. ‘It’s something I’m fighting for and I want this. Religious freedom is something that’s important to Canada.’”

Indeed, Mr. Baird says religious freedom is “the bedrock freedom.” He elaborated in his inaugural speech to the UN General assembly in September:

“Societies that protect religious freedom are more likely to protect all other fundamental freedoms. They are typically more stable and more prosperous societies. This view has been reinforced in consultations I’ve had around the world so far.

“I honestly believe it is critically important that Canada is uniquely placed to protect and promote religious freedom around the world. We are a country of many ethnicities and religions, but we all share one humanity — one of tolerance, one of acceptance, one of peace and security.”

John Baird at a glance

John Baird at a glance

He and his advisers met with one of the co-chairs who had said the Canadian statement on religious freedom couldn’t be done. “An hour later he called back and said it was done.”

It could be done.


There could scarcely be a better place –– or a harder place — to forcefully, powerfully present Canada’s foreign policy than the UN General Assembly.

In the gloves-off style that Canadians have seen during question period, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told the General Assembly that Canada will be an outspoken ally of freedom around the world.

And, in that speech, delivered only four months into his new portfolio, John Baird “named names” — referred directly to countries whose representatives were sitting right in front of him. He criticized their oppressive tactics to suppress freedom.

“The UN speech was very much a reflection of my views, of issues I care about and of issues the government cares about,” he said in an end-of-year interview. “The one thing that people often shy away from is making critical statements face-to-face with someone. Sometimes, though, tough things need to be said.

“I did it publicly,” he says. “You look out and you see Iran sitting there and you see Burma sitting there, you see North Korea sitting there. I’ve had some difficult meetings and discussions with my counterpart in Sri Lanka.

“When you speak out on behalf of oppressed people,” he says, “the oppressors sometimes don’t like it.”

If there was a surprise, it was the immediate reward: “I think I had more than 40 ambassadors or heads of mission in the room line up to congratulate me on it. So it was all positive.”

One ambassador told him that a lot of his comments needed to be said. “Another, from one of the countries I’d just singled out, came up and said ‘Oh, great speech, Minister.’ I don’t know if that was just a diplomatic nicety,” Mr. Baird laughs, “or whether he hadn’t heard that part.”

(In a neat twist, Mr. Baird worked as a young assistant to Perrin Beatty during Mr. Beatty’s last post as minister of foreign affairs for the Kim Campbell government from June to October, 1993. Thus, Mr. Baird was with Mr. Beatty at the UN to hear a very young French foreign minister, Alain Juppé, speak. Mr. Juppé is, again, France’s foreign minister, and John Baird, in a very different capacity, had a reminiscing chat after hearing him, once again, speak to the General Assembly in September.)

In his own address, Mr. Baird raised the issue of questionable UN financial practices. He reminded his audience that Canada is the seventh-largest contributor to UN finances and pointedly added that the UN faces “challenges” with its “financial probity and operational effectiveness.”

And in, by far, his most-honed criticism of its august self, Mr. Baird lambasted UN hypocrisy. He said the UN is faltering, enfeebled as it strays from its founding mandate to keep peace, suppress aggression and promote basic freedoms for all people on earth.

“Or,” he said, “as Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker told this Assembly during his defence of the world’s persecuted minorities: ‘We are not here in this assembly to win wars of propaganda. We are here to win victories for peace.’”

The UN is weakened, Mr. Baird said, when the presidency of its own disarmament conference in Geneva gets passed “to a regime [North Korea] involved in the illicit transfers of weapons, material and technology.” (Canada made headlines by boycotting the conference last July.)

The UN is weakened, he said, “when Iran, which mocks the values of this organization through outrages such as refusing to allow entry to UN observers on human rights, is permitted to seek leadership roles, such as a vice-presidency of the General Assembly and a spot on the Commission on Population and Development.”

Soldiers take part in a ramp ceremony at Kandahar Airfield for Master Corporal Francis Roy, who died in Kandahar City in June 2011.

Soldiers take part in a ramp ceremony at Kandahar Airfield for Master Corporal Francis Roy, who died in Kandahar City in June 2011.

He criticized the UN members who don’t take a public stand when courage and basic integrity are required. “The greatest enemies of the United Nations are those who quietly undermine its principles,” he said, “and, even worse, by those who sit idly, watching its slow decline.”

He said Canada will not treat attacks on human rights and innocent civilians by staying silent and treating countries’ aggression and suppression as purely internal-affairs, no-comment matters.

“We respect state sovereignty, but Canada will not ‘go along’ or look the other way when a minority is denied its human rights or fundamental freedoms. It is our common duty to uphold the rights of the afflicted, to give voice to the voiceless.”

Mr. Baird says he also speaks privately, prodding countries to grant their people basic freedoms. From all appearances, he takes an open-handed, good-will personal approach that has served him well in his 17-year political career. Indeed, he says many of the skills he learned from his previous posts are directly transferable — though nuance plays a greater role in foreign affairs and diplomacy.

An extrovert, he has no difficulty connecting with people. Ottawa’s diplomatic corps has noted, with appreciation, his frequent and unexpected attendance at diplomatic events, especially right after his appointment and before his travels began.

His personable and tough mix apparently works well with trading partners, such as China. It allowed him to mention China, Canada’s second largest trading partner, in his UN speech: “I stand with Roman Catholic priests and other Christian clergy and their laity, as they are driven underground to worship in China while their leaders are detained.” And his government has raised the issues of Tibetans, Uyghurs and Falun Gong practitioners at the United Nations.

He also singled out Iran, calling for the right of Iranian citizens to practise Christianity, defending those charged with apostasy, defending the wrongly imprisoned and persecuted Bahá’í community. And Burma for its discrimination against Muslims and Buddhists. And Pakistan, where he declared Canadian solidarity with Pakistan’s Shahbaz Bhatti and Salman Taseer, who were assassinated by extremists for speaking out against unjust blasphemy laws. And he singled out Egypt for its attacks on Egyptian Coptic Christians. And Iraq, where al-Qaeda has driven out many Christians and minorities and where Canada implemented a program to resettle refugees. And he voiced support for the Ahmiddya community, which faces violence in different parts of the world.

Making a personal connection with foreign ministers allows Canada to ride over the rough spots in their countries’ relationships, he says.

“At some point, you’ve got to put things behind you. Sheikh Abdullah [bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, foreign minister of the UAE] surely has that view and I agree with him,” says Mr. Baird, referring to a dispute over Canadian landing rights for UAE airlines and the UAE’s retaliatory closure of a Canadian military base.

“We had really good meetings in the Middle East [in November] in the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. You get a chance to get to know your colleagues, and discuss issues like Syria, like the Middle East peace process, like Iran. “Throughout the Gulf and the Middle East,” he said, “there is deep concern about Iran’s nuclear program.”

Canada has joined with U.S. and Great Britain in imposing greater sanctions on Iran. Asked about use of force to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear warheads, Mr. Baird responds evenly: “I think President Obama has said there are no options off the table. Obviously, the first thing we’d like to see is change in Iran and, obviously, [we need] to take every single diplomatic effort we can take.”

Diplomacy comes down to good personal relationships. And even with friends and allies, he still promotes Canada’s values on freedom. “You can say not just what our concerns are, but why. It’s not just ‘We don’t like this.’ It’s ‘This is something that deeply concerns us and this is why we’re concerned — and why you should be concerned about it as well.’”

How has Canadian foreign policy changed from the Chretien era? “On a person level, I like Mr. Chretien so I’m not a critic of Mr. Chretien,” he says. “I just think we’ve taken a different approach. It’s principled and I think it’s best styled as ‘not going along to get along.’ And while that’s a phrase, I think it also has some profound meaning. We promote Canadian values — even when it’s not easy to do it — and promote Canadian interests.”

Translated, it means Canada won’t go along with the “double standard” that castigates some UN members while ignoring abuses of others.

“People line up to criticize and condemn Israel for every fault but they’re not nearly as aggressive when [it comes to] Iran or North Korea. [Look at] the inordinate amount of attention that Israel gets compared with others. Why wouldn’t they single Iran out for its human rights record?” (In November 2011, Canada was lead co-sponsor for the ninth time of the annual UN General Assembly resolution condemning Iran’s human rights violations. The resolution passed by a record majority margin.)

The Harper government unequivocally supports “Israel’s right to exist,” he said in his UN speech. “We uphold its fundamental right, like any member state, to defend innocent civilians against acts of terrorism. Just as fascism and communism were the great struggles of previous generations, terrorism is the great struggle of ours.

“And far too often, the Jewish state is on the front line of our struggle and its people the victims of terror. Canada will not accept or stay silent while the Jewish state is attacked for defending its territory and its citizens.

“Over the past century, the world was infected by a lethal combination of utopian ideology and brutal despotism that spawned totalitarian regimes which enslaved their own peoples. Apologists tried to persuade us that the ideology of communism was benign. Canadians knew better. We took a stand — for freedom and fundamental human rights.

“We stood against oppression in Germany. We stood with the brave people of Ukraine and those of the other captive nations of Central and Eastern Europe.

“Canada does not just ‘go along’ in order to ‘get along.’

“We will ‘go along,’ only if we ‘go’ in a direction that advances Canada’s values: freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”

How does he walk the line between trade and human rights? “I think you’re more likely to be successful by engaging


Libyans celebrate after the death of Moammar Gadhafi. "Our Royal Canadian Air Force flew 10 percent of the total strike sorties against Gadhafi's forces," Mr. Baird says, "and our Royal Canadian Navy helped enforce the maritime blockade."

Libyans celebrate after the death of Moammar Gadhafi. "Our Royal Canadian Air Force flew 10 percent of the total strike sorties against Gadhafi's forces," Mr. Baird says, "and our Royal Canadian Navy helped enforce the maritime blockade."

A John Baird lightning round

On African democracy: “We welcome the turning over of power in African states as part of the democratic movement. There are still many challenges in Uganda, in Zimbabwe, in Somalia, in South Sudan. On the downside is the famine in Somalia and al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda-linked Muslim terrorist group which is having a huge effect — not just on Somalia but also on the number of refugees going into Kenya. Piracy, which is having a huge effect even on Kenya’s tourism, is also wreaking havoc on the west coast, including Ghana.”

On Russia: “With Russia, we have not-bad relations. On some issues, such as climate change and the Arctic, we work well with the Russians. I’ve had two bilateral [meetings] with my colleague, Sergey [Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister.] Just because you don’t agree, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a good relationship, a frank exchange back and forth. On a personal level, he’s an interesting guy. And I think it is always good to get a sense not just of what someone’s position is, but why.”

Regarding Russia’s veto (along with China) of a General Assembly motion censoring Syria for its attacks on protesters, he says: “I’ve certainly pushed [the Russians] to do it. The lack of condemnation is obviously disappointing and it doesn’t serve the UN very well. But the Arab League has stepped up to the plate with sanctions, which is phenomenal.”

On the drug problem in Latin America: He says his colleague, Diane Ablonzsky, is doing a lot of work and the prime minister is providing leadership. “We see Colombia has made great progress in attacking its drug challenges, [yet] a lot of the drug trade has moved up into Central America and that’s a challenge. It’s a big concern. We work well with the OAS [Organization of American States], with the countries in the region and with the United States.”

On visa requirements for Mexican and Czech travellers: It is “our problem, not theirs,” he says. “It costs an average $55,000 to adjudicate a refugee claim. Don’t forget that taxpayers pay for the lawyers for both sides. We pay for the process and then [we pay for] the appeals. It’s very expensive. That’s why you have the visa requirements — to stem the claimants.”

On Iran’s alleged plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S.: “I don’t say the word ‘alleged.’ I have been briefed and the facts are very strong. I’m not the minister of justice in the U.S. that has to oversee a fair trial. The facts are compelling. And it is outrageous. This is an attack on diplomacy. It is incredibly serious.”

On diplomatic relations with Iran: A diplomatic stand-off has existed since Iran’s ambassador was expelled for the murder by torture of Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi in Iran in July 2003 for taking photos outside Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. If Iran wants to re-open relations with Canada, they could, says Mr. Baird, “have their president [Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] stop denying the Holocaust happened. They can have their leader say he doesn’t want to push all Jews and Israel into the sea. They could permit international inspection of their nuclear program.” And, he said, they could apologize for Zahra Kazemi’s murder.

On the Arab Spring: Many people are “standing up for their rights” in the Middle East and Africa. “I think people have to be realistic. Libya is not going to go from Gadhafi to Thomas Jefferson overnight. Each of the countries will go at its own pace. Obviously you’re not going to go to full western-style democracy, nor necessarily should you.

“Tunisia is looking very promising.” Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s promise to step down, with elections early this year, signal “a brighter future” for Yemen’s people. “Egypt has struggled. The initial reports on the election are positive — the first election of many. Morocco passed its constitution by huge, huge margin; King Mohammed VI really embraced reform in a big way. King Abdullah II in Jordan has really expedited reforms they were already working on. In Saudi Arabia, you‘ve got to support every step forward. The decision to grant women the right to vote in local elections was a positive step. I’d like to see them go much farther.” [in talks] than not engaging. I’m continually struck every day by the importance of relationships in this business.”

Canada is following a dual path in which principle co-exists with pragmatism: The Harper government’s “Prosperity Agenda” buttresses a federal government’s most basic job: to protect its people. These days, that means more than military and national security. It means financial security — preservation of a healthy economy.

Take Libya, where Mr. Baird met with the chair of the National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, and other council members. “When I visited Libya, for example, yes we’re there to promote Canadian values, freedom and the role of women in a new Libya. At the same time, we’re there to promote our national interest, which is Canadian business and the economic prosperity of our country and Libya’s.

“How do we make sure that Canadian companies who have half-finished projects can get in there and finish them? There are opportunities for economic benefit for Canadians and support of the Libyan people. So I think we’ve got a focused agenda.”

He responds to the observation that many countries are selling natural resources to essentially state-owned companies in China, which is buying heavily into the oil sands.

“China has a lot to offer Canada. Canada has a lot to offer China. Our relations have to be of benefit to both of us, like any relationship,” he says. “We welcome Chinese investments in the resource sector, the oil sector. It’s been good for the Canadian economy. It’s been good for the Chinese economy.

“Would we want to sell any one country, or any one company, the entire resource or majority of a resource in one deal? Obviously that would be disconcerting. But the oil and gas interests are widely held.”

Equally pragmatic, he notes that China accounts for one of every two elevators built in the world — and that China is now the No. 1 buyer of Canadian softwood. “At the same time,” he says, “300,000 or 400,000 people are lifted out of poverty by a growing economy in China. It’s an amazing thing.”

He explained Canada’s economic policy to the prestigious Washington-based Foreign Policy magazine just weeks after becoming foreign affairs minister: “For Canada and our government, the No. 1, the No. 2, and the No. 3 issue are jobs and the economy, jobs and the economy, jobs and the economy.”

While the U.S.-Canada working group is good, he told Foreign Policy, border trade is increasingly wrapped in red tape and slowed by regulations, to the mutual detriment of the two highly-integrated economies. As an example, he chose the Windsor-Detroit Ambassador Bridge: “$130 billion worth of trade goes over one bridge. And if there is a tie-up at the border, there is a tie-up in manufacturing — which could be deadly for manufacturing on both sides.”

What are his top goals for 2012? He identifies his top goal as the promotion of Canadian interests and values “in a big way.” His second goal is working on the Prosperity Agenda.

“It’s huge. So are our free trade negotiations with Europe and with India, and border perimeter security and thinning of Canada-U.S. border [the recently announced Beyond the Border agreement]. Keystone XL Pipeline, our relationship and trade with the United States and expanding our trade relationship with China — they are all important.”

For the government’s Prosperity Agenda, Mr. Baird works with Trade Minister Ed Fast, who also deals with U.S. Buy America protectionism while seeking Canada’s membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, whose nine member nations are working towards a free-trade agreement.

In less than six years, Canada has signed free trade agreements with Colombia, Jordan, Panama, Peru, the European Free Trade Association member states of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, and most recently with Honduras. Pending are agreements with the European Union, Ukraine, Morocco, Korea, Andean Community Countries (Colombia and Peru), the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Dominican Republic, Honduras — with possibilities of Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. In the future, think Singapore, and, potentially, Turkey.

“Diane Ablonczy, [Calgary-Nose Hill MP and minister of state of foreign affairs for the Americas and consular affairs] obviously takes the lead on the Americas. And Deepak Obhrai, [Calgary East MP and parliamentary secretary to Mr. Baird] does a lot of work in Africa and Asia.”

Ask how he sees 2012 and beyond, he responds: “I think Europe is in a real financial crisis with the sovereign debt crisis. It’s significant. Look at the challenges the United States is facing. The Super Committee just failed. They have an inability to get control of the problem. We’re very blessed in Canada to have it under control. Our system is more conducive to problem-solving.

“Economic uncertainty is the biggest challenge. The third-quarter numbers came out today — 3.5 percent economic growth in Canada, which is pretty darn good.”

But don’t suggest that Canada is lucky to have avoided the worst of the cascading economic crises. He growls: “It’s not ‘lucky.’

“You’ve got to work at that every day. You’ve got to focus on jobs and the economy every single day.”

If there is a pure-principle heart to Canada’s foreign policy, it is the government’s $5 million new “Office of Religious Freedom.” Mr. Baird met in October with some 100 people from across the country to discuss the new office, and will lobby cabinet and the Conservative caucus for this foreign-affairs initiative.

“It’s not freedom of religion,” he explains. “It’s freedom to practise your religion. That’s more expansive than just having a Bible in your own home.

“I think it’s imperative that the office operates in the [foreign affairs] department. It needs to harness the resources of our missions abroad, our people on the ground. Whether it tracks with consular issues, whether it tracks with missions around the world, I think it’s really important to be in the department.”

He says he often raises the topic of freedom to practise one’s religion when he’s abroad.

“I think it’s got to be more than a perfunctory raising: You check a box ‘I raised it.’ I think you hammer home how important the issue is to the government of Canada, to the people of Canada. Sometimes it’s more warmly received than others [but that] doesn’t mean you shouldn’t raise it.”

On the other hand, he doesn’t “hector” people: “You’ve got to try to be persuasive. At the same time, one person is not going to change a country. It takes consistent, coordinated effort.”

He says Canada will join other countries in this effort: Suzan Johnson Cook, U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom, “does a great job.” Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini “is really passionate about this. So we’re not alone by any stretch.”

Will he eventually try to have a religious freedom centre established right at the UN? He smiles: “Let’s get the centre established [in Canada]. But we are smoothing the way. The prime minister provided a lot of leadership during the G8 Summit in Deauville, France in May 2011. There were two or three references to religious freedom.”

As strongly as Mr. Baird feels on this issue, he is clear that this is Prime Minister Harper’s issue. Mr. Harper, besides mentioning it in the Throne Speech, made it “part of the election platform. It’s something he believes strongly in,” says Mr. Baird, “and something our team and our party believe strongly in.”

How close are his, Mr. Harper’s and the cabinet’s views on foreign policy? Foreign policy is hammered out in cabinet and in discussions, he says, and it’s not always smooth agreement. “I think people would be astounded. We have some really good debates, really good discussions around the cabinet table. We don’t always agree on everything.

“It’s funny, obviously we’re a team,” he says. “The PM is leader of the team. On foreign policy, the PM and I do share a lot — not everything — of the same views. Our views on Israel are remarkably similar. We have good debates, discussions.”

And, he says, they’ve had lots of time to work out their foreign affairs policy. “I travelled to three G8s with him before I was foreign minister. Environment is an economic portfolio, a regulatory portfolio and, increasingly, a foreign affairs portfolio.

“I’ve travelled extensively with him on foreign policy, on bilaterals with a wide variety of people. Also, as a member of P and P [the cabinet committee on priorities and planning], you obviously consider every issue, every file.”

During cabinet talks, he says, “the PM welcomes different perspectives. He’s a very good listener. At the same, he brings values to the table — as we all do.”

The debate can get very spirited, he says, because everyone’s set of values and principles are complex. “Those who disagree with [our views] say that they’re narrow ideologies and that they’re rigid.”

He chuckles: “People on the left have values and principles. People on the right have rigid ideologies.”

His own “rigid ideology” is, he says: “I believe in freedom.”



A John Baird compendium

“It’s always easier to shut up and go along with the crowd.”

“From the Liberals under [Lester] Pearson to the Liberals under Jean Chretien, the Liberal Party has had a very distinct view of foreign policy. I think it was very different before Pearson. Prime Minister [Brian] Mulroney was not shy about disagreeing with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan on sanctions in South Africa. He was very aggressive in fighting for that. And that’s the [country’s] tradition. [Prime Minister John] Diefenbaker did the same in the Commonwealth with apartheid, taking strong principled stands. I think there are more [Canadian] roots in that [kind of foreign policy].”

“When we came to office and Stephen Harper was elected Prime Minister, Canada was [world-ranked at] No. 31 on peacekeeping. I think most Canadians thought that our soldiers in Afghanistan were on a peacekeeping mission. They were never told, they never understood, that this was not a peacekeeping mission, that the soldiers were not wearing the blue beret.

“[In terms of raising the status of the military in Canada] Stephen Harper did a lot of it. Peter MacKay has done a lot of it. Rick Hillier has done a lot of it. Gordon O’Connor has done a lot of it. Walter Natynczyk has done a lot of it. You know, 20 years ago, Canadian Armed Forces members sometimes didn’t want to wear their uniforms in public; now when they go into Tim Hortons, two or three people try to buy them a cup of coffee. The amount of support for the Canadian Forces is significant.

“And Canada’s history was not being ‘an honest broker’ on all sides [of an issue]. In the Second World War, we took a strong stand from Day 1. World War I, the same. The First Gulf War, the same. We stand up for what we believe in and that’s the real history of the country.”

“Our Royal Canadian Air Force flew 10 percent of the total strike sorties against Gadhafi’s forces, and our Royal Canadian Navy helped enforce the maritime blockade. Canada has paid heavily — both in dollar terms and in priceless human toll — to fulfill our UN obligation to support the lawful government of Afghanistan.”


The Keystone XL Pipeline

“We were disappointed [with President Barack Obama postponing his decision until 2013.] I think most observers of the timing and the decision have come to certain conclusions which I’ll leave for them [to express].

“My approach to dealing with the Americans, with Hillary [Hillary Clinton, U.S. secretary of state] is that when all you talk about is irritants, [laughs] you quickly become irritating. I was told that [former Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice once described the agenda of a meeting with a Canadian foreign minister as very similar to a condo committee board meeting.

“So Hillary and I talk about issues that are multilateral, and then we discuss the two issues I’ve been pushing with my American counterparts, which are Beyond the Border [facilitating trade] and the Keystone XL.

“We’re making good progress on Beyond the Border, which is very important to the Canadian economy. And we are obviously concerned with the delay [emphasis on the word delay] in Keystone. They’re working hard on the rerouting of it around the aquifer in Nebraska. But Canada can’t be held captive to special interests south of the border. We’ve got to diversify our markets. That’s why the [proposed Gateway] pipeline to the West Coast is so important.”


Canada as ‘honest broker’

“I want to be the first foreign minister in the world to recognize a newly independent Palestinian state when it negotiates peace and security [directly] with Israel.

“Did these people [who want Canada to be an “honest broker” in the Middle East] say that Canada lost its status as an honest broker when we went to war early with Hitler’s Germany? We did that early in the Second World War. We didn’t try to be an honest broker [with] Germany and [our Allies].

“What does an honest broker mean? I mean, if you’re looking at Hezbollah or Hamas, you don’t want to be an honest broker if they’re international terrorist organizations.

“The Palestinian Authority — we have, I think, a constructive relationship with them. They obviously don’t share an opinion on a major file. Hamas is an international terrorist organization and has launched thousands of rockets against civilian populations in a fellow liberal democracy [Israel].”


Foreign policy vs. domestic politics

“A lot of foreign policy isn’t partisan.

“I work very well with Dominic LeBlanc, the Liberal foreign affairs critic. Paul Dewar [former NDP critic] is a great guy. I’m getting to know Hélène Laverdière [NDP critic] and I’m off to a good start with her. We worked very well on the Libyan mission, consulting Parliament when I was House Leader for the first round. And I had good negotiations and discussions with [then Liberal critic] Bob Rae and Paul Dewar on the second round, and the third one was a fairly civil debate and discussion. We tried to be more open. On the Libyan mission, we made officials available to fully brief the opposition parties at every step they wanted it. So I think that was a good day for Parliament when all parties supported it.”



Mr. Baird at the opening of the Ottawa Humane Society's new facility with Chance the cat.

Mr. Baird at the opening of the Ottawa Humane Society's new facility with Chance the cat.

On the personal side: A Tim Hortons FAN

Q: How long are your days?
A: Every day is different. There’s a huge amount of travel. Visits to Indonesia, Italy, Libya, the U.S., China, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, Netherlands, France, Turkey, Australia, Kuwait, UAE, Germany and Lithuania. There`s a huge amount of reading. An obviously significant amount of my time is spent engaging. (On this day, after question period, he’ll meet successively with the chargé d’affaires of Sudan, the prime minister of Georgia and Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.)

Q: When you`re home, what is your daily schedule?
A: I’m up every morning at 6 o’clock, listen to the Steve Madely [CFRA] show ‘til 6:30 and then I get up and go. Q. Breakfast? A: Cereal and milk. Q: Do you drink coffee? A: I’m addicted to Tim Hortons. I stop every morning on the way to work and have a Tim Hortons.

Q: Do you drive to work?
A: I have a driver. I read the newspapers very quickly: the Ottawa Sun, the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post, The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star (when it’s available). I live in East Nepean so I don’t have a long trip to read them.

Q: What regular meetings do you attend?
A: I meet with the deputy [Morris Rosenberg] several times a week but every Monday I have a private meeting with him and get briefed on a good number of issues. And there’s P&P [cabinet’s priorities and planning committee], Eastern Ontario caucus and national caucus, and meetings with the inner cabinet on Thursday mornings every few weeks.

Q: Working lunch?
A: I grabbed a salad in the cafeteria today and ate it during prep for question period. Some days I’ll put some vegetarian chili in the microwave.

Q: Are you a vegetarian? Do you eat meat?
A: No.

Q: Do you eat fish, eggs, cheese?
A: Yes.

Q: What do you eat for dinner?
A: [Big laugh] I eat out. My favourite foods are sushi, Thai, Chinese.

Q: How do you do with so much travel abroad — jet lag?
A: I’ve learned it’s always good to fly at night. We went to the Libya meeting, to Italy and France. We left at 8 a.m. When we landed it was already 11:30 at night, so 5 or 6 p.m. our time. I couldn’t sleep all night.

Q: Do you exercise?
A: No.

Q: Is there a sort of Clan of the Cat in the Harper government?
A: There is a sort of cat clan. There is a group of us. Laureen [Harper] had me over to 24 Sussex [last spring]. She had some kittens from the Ottawa Humane Society that she had taken and was nursing. [Both cat lovers, the Harpers have fostered many kittens for later adoption.] There were two or three really cute ones. Then [strangely] she said: “You probably wouldn’t want to take them. You’d be travelling all the time.” I looked at her — and that was before the cabinet shuffle — and I went [he makes a quizzical face and laughs].” (Days later, he was appointed foreign affairs minister. Call it a case of letting the cat out of the bag.) Another cat person is Marjory LeBreton [government Senate leader]. Monte Solberg [former citizenship and immigration minister] was a cat person. So was Sandra Buckler [Mr. Harper`s former communications director]. There are a lot of us.

Q: How do you relax?
A: I go out with my friends.

Q: When do your days end?
A: I try to always get to bed by, at the latest, 11 or midnight. I’m not a nighthawk.

Q: Books you’re reading?
A: I was just given Richard Gwyn’s book Nation Maker — Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times. I took it with me on my last trip but I didn’t have a chance to get to it because I was working or reading for work. I did a book review for The Globe [and Mail newspaper] — Craig Oliver’s book, Oliver’s Twist. [Oliver’s Twist: The Life & Times of an Unapologetic Newshound].

Q: How do you deal with criticism, in country and out?
A: You learn to have a thick skin. You’re human like everyone else. At the same time, if you believe in what you’re doing, that’s better than if all you did is to listen to your critics every day.


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Donna Jacobs is Diplomat's publisher

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