Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird rose in the House of Commons Feb 3 to announce that he is stepping away from political life after two decades.
Baird, erstwhile member of Parliament for Ottawa West-Nepean, did not provide specific reasons for his departure, except to say that it was time for him to start a new chapter in life.
Ed Fast, the international trade minister, has been named interim foreign affairs minister.
In a message sent from his Twitter account, Baird said simply, “After 20 years of public office, I’m optimistic about Canada’s future, and about the next chapter in my life.”
Later, in his farewell remarks in Parliament, Baird recalled joining his “good friend,” former Ontario premier Mike Harris, in the provincial legislature when he was only 25 and “a little naive, driven by ideology, defined by partisanship.” But to “really make a difference,” he said, personal values — rather than partisanship or ideology — are key.
First elected federally in 2006, the often-confrontational foreign minister — who has helmed 10 ministerial portfolios and noted that he served 10 years in Ontario’s provincial legislature, followed by 10 years on Parliament Hill — said he has always believed that government “has to be there for people — that through hard work, it can be a force for good.”
In thanking his family for their support, Baird observed that it’s never easy for people to see their loved ones under a public microscope.
While Baird has not been publicly forthcoming about his sexual orientation, he was named as an out gay politician on a CBC radio program by a Conservative candidate running in an Ontario by-election in February 2010. Three years later, playwright Brad Fraser was told by a CBC producer not to use Baird as an example of an out gay politician during a broadcast on the ethics of outing.
Despite refraining from discussing his sexuality publicly, Baird has not been shy about fighting for gay rights, especially in the international arena.
In October 2012, he clashed publicly with Ugandan parliamentary speaker Rebecca Kadaga at a Quebec City conference, calling out her country for its proposed “Kill the Gays” bill and its poor gay rights record.
His pointed remarks prompted an incensed Kadaga, on her return to Uganda, to renew efforts to push the anti-gay legislation through the African country’s parliament as a “Christmas gift” to her people. Kadaga’s wish materialized a year later when the long-anticipated bill was given the thumbs-up by Ugandan MPs and signed into law by then-president Yoweri Museveni in February 2014.
That law was subsequently struck down by Uganda’s Constitutional Court in the same year, but a new legislative initiative, entitled “The Prohibition of Promotion of Unnatural Sexual Practices Bill, 2014,” has reared its head and includes a proposal to criminalize sex with transgender people.
Baird also spoke out when Nigeria, which already criminalized gay sex, passed additional legislation to ban gay advocacy groups and make same-sex marriage punishable by a 14-year prison sentence. He took other Commonwealth countries to task for continuing to have laws on their books that criminalize homosexuality, saying, “We will not sit in our far-off homes and plead ignorance to crimes against those who seek the same freedoms we enjoy.”
While Baird was against a campaign to boycott the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics following Russia’s passage of a law to prohibit “gay-propaganda,” he called the country’s anti-gay laws “hateful” and “mean-spirited” and indicated that he had met several times with Russian officials and asked them — unsuccessfully — to dismantle the law.
Lately, Baird has been involved in a diplomatic initiative to secure the release of Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, who is expected to be granted his freedom imminently.
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