Say what you like about the big, bad boogeyman of Conservative politics (I often do), but no foreign minister in recent Canadian history has marched so perfectly locked in step with his serving prime minister.
John Baird’s pending departure from the Hill (he announced his resignation last week, seven months before Canadians, once again, go to the polls to take the measure of their dwindling electoral options) is only the latest, best-kept secret in a town where true transparency comes under the cover of night, when flashlights and prying eyes are the instruments of choice among the well-fed, overly chatty illuminati.
It seems pretty clear, then, that Mr. Baird could keep his cards tucked close to his vest for just so long, such is the juggernaut of Ottawa’s rumor mill.
And so it was that one of the most important members of Stephen Harper’s Cabinet departed on an appropriate, if sometimes sentimental, note of grace.
“I have seen the stature of this country grow in the eyes of the world,” he told his Commons colleagues last week. “The world has seen the best that Canada has to offer. . . Being foreign minister was a tremendous experience. . .I quickly learned (that) to make a difference you can’t be defined by partisan, nor by ideology. You need to be defined by values.”
As for it all, he said, “I will miss this place very much and all the people in it. . .The time has come to start a new chapter in my life.”
As for his boss, he insisted, “I believed in this prime minister. And I continue to believe him all these years later. He is one of our great leaders.”
The log-rolling commenced on cue.
“John has always been willing to do a lot of heavy lifting in my various cabinets and has assumed daunting new responsibilities with unsurpassed energy, commitment and professionalism, never losing sight of the fact that he was serving the Canadian people,” the prime minister enthused.
And why not? The man was both assiduous and eminently quotable in the execution of his duties over the past decade: the true face of the Harper government when the real McCoy was unavailable or otherwise inclined to face the unblinking eye of the mainstream media’s cameras.
A recent CBC compendium of the outgoing politico’s bon mots reveals the expansive measure of Mr. Baird’s comfort zone with the bully pulpit:
In this: “Let us replace darkness with light, let us replace accountability with corruption.”
This: “We don’t sit around the cabinet table dreaming up ways to increase taxes.”
And this: “I’m not sure we want flash mobs. I don’t know what a flash mob is; it sounds a bit disconcerting. . .I don’t like the context of either word.”
Sometimes, he was funny (though rarely to lefties outside Parliament, of course).
New Democrat Pat Martin once inquired, jokingly, how the federal government planned to avert an attack by brain-eating zombies. Mr. Baird dutifully deadpanned:
“I am dead-icated to ensuring that this never happens. I want to say categorically to this member and through him to all Canadians that under the leadership of this Prime Minister Canada will never become a safe haven for zombies, ever!. . .If there is a zombie attack, Canadians need to be well prepared. They should stock up on first aid kits, monster trucks, canned food and water. . .And I am not going to stand in this place and not warn Canadians that if the NDP had its way, Canadians would have to pay a carbon tax on each and every one of those.”
The future is now John Baird’s oyster. At a mere 45 years young, he can, and likely will, write any ticket that pleases him.
But it’s hard to escape the suspicion that the one he truly wants lies some years down the road: as Prime Minister of Canada, when he may walk in lock-step with no one but himself.