By Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday May 19, 2011
Pit bull Baird faces hostile international terrain as foreign minister
John Baird may be Canada’s new top diplomat, but that won’t prevent Stephen Harper’s favourite political pit bull from baring his teeth on the international stage from time to time.
Baird’s promotion to foreign affairs in Wednesday’s cabinet shuffle was taken as a sign by some that one of the prime minister’s fiercest partisans would have to muzzle his growl and demur to the niceties of international diplomacy.
But Baird showed no sign of an impending personality makeover when he characterized his new job in confrontational terms as he left Rideau Hall.
“I fight hard for what I believe in,” Baird said, firing off freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law as examples of those beliefs.
Some of the Harper’s strongest foreign policy critics applauded the selection of Baird, citing his tough, non-compromising style as a perfect fit for his new job. But they also warned of a tough road ahead in elevating what they view as Canada’s sunken standing on the international stage.
However, Baird has handled some tough political jobs in the last few years, including treasury board president, environment minister and government House leader in a bitterly fractious minority Parliament.
“This is a man who doesn’t look like he will shrink from disagreement,” said Paul Heinbecker, Canada’s longest-serving United Nations ambassador and a frequent critic of the Conservatives’ performance on the international stage.
“Diplomacy is not, contrary to the popular view, a subject of everybody being nice to everybody else,” Heinbecker added. “It’s a place where you go to represent your values and defend your interests.”
Baird has all the attributes of a good foreign minister, including his “strong personality.” But the fact that he is a competent minister, who has the ear of his prime minister, will be a tonic to foreign affairs department officials who have been marginalized and demoralized by Harper’s firm grip on the country’s foreign policy reins for the last five years, said Heinbecker. (Source: Hamilton Spectator)