Former Foreign Affairs minister John Baird has abruptly withdrawn his name from the list of possible candidates to replace Stephen Harper, citing the need to focus on the private-sector career commitments he made just six months ago.
Sources say the former Conservative politician was compelled to make a decision on Monday morning after his business associates requested that he tell them which path he would take.
Mr. Baird, who quit Mr. Harper's cabinet before the Oct. 19 election to find private-sector employment, now has several blue-chip jobs – the most notable being his role as an adviser to Hong Kong billionaire Richard Li, son of one of the wealthiest men in Asia.
The assignment for Mr. Li was envisioned as more than a short-term job. Mr. Li is known to demand loyalty and commitment from those working for him. The Globe and Mail reported on Monday that a close friend and former chief of staff to Mr. Baird, Chris Froggatt, said the ex-politician was "strongly considering" a return to helm the Conservative Party, which is currently leaderless.
Late Monday morning, Mr. Baird shifted gears, releasing a statement signalling to Canadians – and ultimately to Mr. Li – that he will remain dedicated to his private-sector career.
"While I have indeed received expressions of interest and am tremendously flattered by the support, I will not be running for leader of the Conservative Party of Canada," Mr. Baird said in a statement.
"When I retired from politics, I spoke about starting a new chapter in my life. I am extremely happy with this new chapter and will remain dedicated to my work in the private sector.
"I will not be offering further comment on the matter."
A source close to the former politician said one of Mr. Baird's clients asked the minister-turned-consultant on Monday morning to make an immediate choice between business and politics.
"The Globe article attracted a great deal of attention, including with some of his business interests, and compelled him to make a decision right away," the source said.
The Conservative Party is preparing to select an interim leader to fill in while they decide on a permanent party chief. MPs and senators will hold a Parliamentary caucus meeting in Ottawa on Nov. 5 to elect the caretaker leader.
Erin O'Toole, the last Veterans' Affairs minister under Mr. Harper, has announced he will seek the interim job. Diane Finley, Public Works minister in the Conservative government, is also campaigning for the post. An interim leader cannot run for the permanent post.
Also on Nov. 5, Canadian Conservatives will be paying close attention as former prime minister Brian Mulroney delivers a speech to the Albany Club in Toronto. Organizers say 500 people are now expected to attend, but add that the numbers are growing.
Mr. Mulroney, whose relations with Mr. Harper were strained, is supposed to discuss the legacy of Sir John A. Macdonald in his address at the Royal York Hotel.
But he is expected to venture beyond the topic in his first major speech since the Oct. 19 electoral defeat that removed Mr. Harper from power.
"I would expect that Mr. Mulroney, being Mr. Mulroney, will have some comments on the current state of the Conservative Party, especially postelection, and where it might think about going in the future," said Geoff Norquay, a principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group.