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Canada's then-Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is applauded by former Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird as he debates the federal budget in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa March 21, 2013. Baird says Flaherty’s death played a role in his decision to leave politics.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

Former foreign affairs minister John Baird said his retreat from politics was motivated by the sudden death last year of his close friend and former finance minister Jim Flaherty.

Mr. Flaherty, who like Mr. Baird was a 20-year Conservative Party representative and cabinet minister with the Ontario and federal governments, died of heart attack in April, 2014, only one month after retiring as the country's long-serving finance minister. Mr. Baird said he was rocked by the death and after months of reflection decided over the Christmas holidays it was time to step off the political treadmill and start a new career in the private sector.

"I just thought the time was right. … It is an incredibly demanding job and I had given it my all," he said.

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Mr. Baird, 46, agreed to publicly discuss his political exit in an interview with The Globe and Mail on the eve of his latest business appointment. Mississauga-based engineering giant Hatch Ltd. is set to announce on Wednesday that Mr. Baird has been appointed strategic adviser to help the company expand globally.

Mr. Baird is a director with two companies controlled by Hong Kong developer Richard Li, and he serves as international adviser at gold mining giant Barrick Gold Corp. and Bay Street law firm Bennett Jones LLP.

In each of his new positions, Mr. Baird said his primary focus will be fostering deeper Canadian trade and business ties between China and other Asian countries.

Although his former boss, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, imposed investment restrictions on Chinese companies seeking major acquisitions in Canada, Mr. Baird said he favours a more open approach.

"You're better off to engage than not to engage," he said.

China's emergence as a global economic force is an important opportunity for Canadian companies, he said, which have historically been "too reliant" on the U.S. market.

Hatch is a privately owned company that began in the 1950s building subway tunnels in Toronto. Today, it has more than 10,000 employees and reportedly generates more than $2-billion of sales annually, primarily from engineering contracts for global mining and energy projects.

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Mr. Baird has been assigned to initially help the company manage government relations in Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said this interview was Mr. Baird's first since leaving politics.

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