Tag Archives: John Baird

John Baird’s not-so-hidden agenda

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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.

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The official flora of Canada’s next province: palm trees

 

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I get that John Baird is a very important man with a very important job doing very important things, like saving the world for Stephen Harper’s democracy. But does Canada’s foreign minister have to be such a party pooper?

Specifically, as the thermometer outside my office door barely nudged 10 degrees Celcius this week did he have to throw water on the idea of this country welcoming the tropical paradise known as the Turks and Caicos Islands into its provincial fold?

“We’re not in the business of annexing islands in the Caribbean to be part of Canada, so that’s not something that we’re exploring,” Baird declared on Monday, as the premier of the Caribbean state, a British protectorate, openly flirted with the notion of he and his 29,000 fellow islanders formally becoming Canucks. 

“I’m not closing the door completely,” Rufus Ewing told reporters in Ottawa. “It is not of my mandate to close the door. What I’ll say is on the radar is some kind of relationship. I can’t say what kind of relationship it will be,” 

Still, insisted Baird: “We’re not looking at any sort of formal association with the islands.”

But, as the Globe and Mail’s editorial writer asked reasonably yesterday, “Why the heck not? Yes, the idea is slightly loopy. But a people subjected to six months a year of winter, preceded by four months of fall, are entitled to the occasional tropical daydream. And if Newfoundland could go from a British colony to Canadian province, why not some slightly more temperate islands?.”

Of course, the circumstances of Newfoundland’s entry into Confederation in 1949 were unique to that place and time (having had something to do with 15 years of government by appointment only), yet Canada’s self-styled national newspaper is not wrong about this. And its readers concur. After all, if Richard Branson gets to own a palmy getaway at the equator, why can’t we?

“Has anyone even run the numbers?” writes Peter Sutherland of Ottawa. “The cost of providing Canadian social services for some 30,000 islanders versus the money that would stay in ‘Canada’ (not the southern United States or Mexico) during the winter? Looks like this rare opportunity will once again fade as fast as my short-lived summer tan.”

Adds Mary Lazier-Corbett of Picton, Ontario: “Assuming there is an informed wish on the part of Turks and Caicos to become part of our Confederation, it would have huge advantages to Canada. . .It would. . .open up opportunities for citizens in the ‘new‘ area and force us all to rethink, rationally, what it means to be Canadian. . .Go for it!”

Finally, this word from Janice Campbell of Halifax: “Frostbitten hand to winter-numbed heart, there is so much I’d forgive the Conservatives if they did this. Puh-leeze, Mr. Baird.”

Well, Mr. Baird, the people have spoken; what say you now? Shall you stand in the corner just as the festivities kick into high gear?

“If you don’t want another prov/territory,” Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall tweeted to the prime minister, “Turks/Caicos can join Canada as a part of Sask.”

To which Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz responded, “Hey, Brad, PEI would be happy to partner with Saskatchewan on the Turks and Caicos project!”

Replied Wall: “Now we’re talking.”

Even Mr. Baird’s colleague Conservative MP Peter Goldring likes the idea. “There are opportunities that are going to be growing in the Caribbean,” he told Global News. “I think it would be good for business if we were to develop a good strong relationship and maybe even a marriage.”

It’ll never happen, of course, because the politicos in positions of real power – never the most imaginative among us – can’t divine an immediate up side.

I, on the other hand, can think of 12. In the Turks and Caicos, average high temperatures for January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, and December are, respectively: 27, 27, 28, 28, 29, 30, 31, 31, 31, 30, 29, and 28 degrees Celcius. Plus, it never gets below 20 at night.

As one gets older, these considerations acquire greater significance, especially as one obsessively checks the mercury outside my office door. 

It’s May 28 and what do you know? The temperature just shot up to 13.

Maybe John Baird is right after all. 

Turks and Caicos? 

Bah, who needs you?

 

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Use Sochi to support human rights

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It should be clear by now that the Olympic Games is about as useful for promoting the vaunted notion of justice through sport as a hammer is for spreading paint on a wall. That, of course, doesn’t prevent millions of viewers from gluing themselves to their TV sets every four years to glimpse fleeting instances of true athletic grace.

It is, in fact, the rarity of such demonstrations of simple, unalloyed prowess, amid the cloying displays of national pride and corporate flackery, that keep us parked in our seats hoping for the best in human nature, though expecting the worst.

Six months out from Sochi, the underbelly of this quadrennial extravaganza is already showing itself. The host country, Russia, dislikes gay people so much that it has passed laws banning “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations”. That means, if you are an athlete who is out of the closet, you’d be advised to go back in and shut the door lest you find yourself fined, in jail, or both.

Aggravating this insult were comments last week that suggested that at least one member of the International Olympic Committee remains sanguine about Russia’s hard line on homosexuality.

According to a CNN report, “Lamine Diack, president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, has called for Russian law to be respected ahead of his sport’s world championships, which begin in Moscow on Saturday. ‘I don’t feel there is a problem whatsoever,’ Diack, a member of the International Olympic Committee, told reporters. ‘Russia has their laws. Each athlete can have their own private life, so we won’t call upon people about this and that. . .We are here for the World Championships and have no problem whatsoever and I’m not worried at all.’”

Roughly 300,000 other individuals, who have signed a petition calling for Russia to repeal the legislation, are far less cheerful, given that the “the goal of Olympism”, according to the IOC’s charter, “is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”

All of which has raised the unavoidable specter of a boycott. The well-known British actor, comedian and activist Stephen Fry has gone as far as to demand that the Games be relocated. In an open letter to his Prime Minister David Cameron and the IOC, he wrote on his website, “An absolute ban on the Russian Winter Olympics of 2014 on Sochi is simply essential. Stage them elsewhere in Utah, Lillyhammer, anywhere you like. At all costs Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world. . .He is making scapegoats of gay people, just as Hitler did Jews. He cannot be allowed to get away with it.”

He later changed his mind, and for good reason. Practically and politically, such a move would be impossible. But, in fact, any form of boycott would be both unfair to the athletes and counterproductive to the cause of human rights. Snubbing the Games tacitly acknowledges the legitimacy of the legislation. It says: the law may be vile, but it is still the law. Russia has thrown down the gantlet; the world must now pick it up.

I am inclined to agree with those, including Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird, who have remarked that Sochi presents an important opportunity for the athletic communities of all nations to forge a united front of principled protest against Russia’s backward social policies. Specifically, the opportunity to flout the law and send a message that acceptance, not discrimination, animates an increasingly enlightened world is too good to pass up.

At the very least, it would go some distance towards restoring a modicum of respectability to the apparatus of the Games, itself, the reports of whose ambivalence, corruption and scandals over the years could paper the walls of several Olympic-sized swimming pools.

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