John Baird got out while the getting was good. According to The Globe's Jeffrey Simpson, Baird's departure won't leave much of a vacuum.
His departure weakens a cabinet of distinctly modest talents, and further shrinks the influence of the old Mike Harris Conservatives in what is essentially a modernized Reform Party government.
...Mr. Baird did not make Canadian foreign policy; he certainly was not a foreign policy expert or thinker. He executed foreign policy as conceived by the Prime Minister with whom he shared a common perspective on the world.
He leaves the foreign affairs ministry with morale at rock-bottom. Diplomats despaired at the idiosyncratic nature of the government’s foreign policy, the selling of Canadian embassies abroad, the petty rules imposed on entertaining abroad, parties he organized for friends at Canadian missions, the rejection of speeches prepared by the department, but more than anything else the impulsive and ideological directives imposed, often on short notice, by the youthful enthusiasts in Mr. Baird’s office.
But, of course, Mr. Baird and his staff would reply that the ministry remains full of Pearsonian internationalists more intent on saving the world and being nice to everyone than pursuing Canada’s national interests. Many are the examples of this tension, but nowhere was this more evident than in the Middle East, where the government’s absolute fidelity to every jot and tittle of Israel’s behaviour – rewarded by a massive swing to the Conservatives among Jewish voters – drove seasoned diplomats to distraction.
Indeed, in every portfolio, it is hard to think of where Mr. Baird left an imprint, except stylistically. He executed the government’s first major piece of legislation, the Accountability Act, the outline of which had figured in the Conservative platform as an antidote to alleged corruption under the Liberal government. It turned out to be a massive piece of legislation that spawned new agencies and expanded others, required new paperwork burdens and generally increased inefficiency in exchange for putative gains in probity.
At environment, like all holders of this portfolio, Mr. Baird ragged the puck, since the government had little interest in the file. There, his rhetorical abilities came in handy, when he blunted all attacks with fusillades of indignation.
Mr. Baird was given a somewhat longer leash as a minister than most in this highly centralized government, perhaps because he had earned respect as a faithful and effective public advocate for the government’s positions. Still, his latitude was always limited, for such is the nature of this government, so it would have been difficult for him, as for any minister, to leave a substantive mark, as opposed to a rhetorical one.