For Canada's foreign-policy elite – a hodge podge of multilateralist academics, retired diplomats nostalgic for the "honest broker" days and NGO-types reeling from cuts to foreign aid – John Baird's sprint to cash in on his political experience is the final insult.
During nearly four years as foreign minister, Mr. Baird thumbed his nose at almost every Canadian foreign-policy convention since the Statute of Westminster. He belligerently asserted the Harper government's positions on Israel, Iran and the Islamic State. Time will tell whether those positions have put Canada on the wrong side of history, but this Thatcher-adoring conviction politician had no time for what he saw as the mushy moral relativism of the elites.
So, when Mr. Baird announced in February that he was retiring from politics at the advanced age of 45, the elites were decidedly undiplomatic in their assessment of his tenure. Under Mr. Baird, Canada became an uncritical and uncategorical defender of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's policies just as U.S. President Barack Obama was distancing himself from them; we closed our embassy in Tehran just Mr. Obama was starting to engage the Iranian regime; and we became apologists for Western military intervention abroad just as Mr. Obama sought to wind down such entanglements.
The fundamental criticism levelled at Mr. Baird, however, was that he did not walk the talk. "Canada now talks more than we act, and our tone is almost adolescent," former Tory prime minister and foreign-affairs minister Joe Clark charged in a recent book. The Harper government, he wrote, prefers the "podium" to the "playing field." It's "unusually assertive in its dramatic gestures and declarations, but it has drawn back steadily from initiatives designed to actually resolve critical problems." We're AWOL on climate change, global poverty and the Commonwealth.
For many observers without a direct personal or professional stake in the status quo, however, Mr. Baird's candour was a breath of fresh air. At least the world, and Canadians themselves, knew where we stood for a change. Our critical relationship with China advanced under Mr. Baird, notwithstanding the recent criticisms levelled by former ambassador David Mulroney. What Mr. Baird proved really adept at, though, was building personal friendships with foreign decision-makers that increased Canada's influence abroad.
But that's also what makes Mr. Baird's rush to snag lucrative corporate jobs seem a bit tactless to the foreign-policy purists. It suggests that Mr. Baird is cashing in on many of his own policies and the privileges, including access to foreign leaders, that he enjoyed simply by virtue of his former office.
Mr. Baird is hardly the first former cabinet minister to accept corporate gigs. But Foreign Affairs is not a typical ministry. Its officeholders face a higher calling and are held to a higher standard. The haste with which Mr. Baird has made the leap to making money adds weight to the criticism that the traditional objectives of Canada's foreign policy – poverty reduction, peacekeeping – were jettisoned under him in favour of advancing our business interests abroad.
Nowhere was this as manifest as in the move to tie aid to trade. Aid organizations were forced to look to Canadian mining companies to fund development programs abroad, enhancing the legitimacy of such companies among local populations. One such "partnership" pairs World Vision Canada and Barrick Gold in a microfinance program near one of Barrick's Peruvian mines.
Mr. Baird's move to push "economic diplomacy" over all other forms was hailed by Canadian business. And now it's time for payback – or at least that's the perception Mr. Baird risks leaving after Barrick announced that he is joining its international advisory board, providing geopolitical insight and advice to the world's leading gold producer.
Mr. Baird will also soon join the board of directors at Canadian Pacific. There, the pitbull former transport minister will find kindred spirits in CEO Hunter Harrison and U.S. hedge-fund manager Bill Ackman. The latter led and won a bitter 2012 proxy fight against the former CP management team and board, which clearly makes him the kind of man Mr. Baird can do business with.
Mr. Baird's most lucrative new gig, so far, may be his role as a business adviser to Hong Kong-based billionaire Richard Li, a Canadian citizen. That will take up about half of his time.
Only Mr. Baird knows whether he has given up politics for good – many of us have our doubts. But in the meantime, he'll be making money, not war.