Those who are concerned about human rights for Palestinians were quite content to hear that Foreign Minister John Baird had stepped down earlier this week. After all, it was Baird who:
- threatened the Palestinian Authority with “consequences’ if Palestine joined the United Nations,
- made a special trip to New York to vote and speak against Palestinian membership.
- met Israeli cabinet minister Tzipi Livni in occupied East Jerusalem, against all convention, and then blew off the criticisms as if they were fluff
- said that the Palestinians had crossed a “red line” by applying to join the International Criminal Court (ICC).
- signed a joint memorandum with Israel’s foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, in which both countries pledged to fight the BDS movement.
Baird gave every impression of liking his job. He was happy provoking the liberals, and the wimps and the idealists. He was more Zionist than Natanyahu’s Likud Party. So, for Palestinian Canadians, and for those concerned about human rights for Palestinians, Baird was easy to hate. (Remember the shoes in Ramallah!!)
And it is easy for some to hope that the departure of the hated Baird will open up the possibility that Canada’s middle east policy will return to something more “traditional”.
But I don’t think that will happen. For two reasons.
First of all, every minister in the federal government operates within the framework of a “mandate letter”. This document is carefully worked out by staffers in the Prime Minister’s office. On taking office, each minister has to agree that s/he will carry out the mandate to the best of his/her capability. And ministers are evaluated on how well they carry out the mandate. At the federal level, mandate letters are secret, so nobody but the Prime Minister and the minister knows what is in them. But the public can figure out the mandate by looking at what the minister does. When ministers don’t do a good job of fulfilling the mandate (think Julian Fantino, for example) they are replaced. But some ministers are excellent at fulfilling the mandate and get promoted. Baird was one of Harper’s most effective ministers.
Secondly, it might happen that a new minister would get a new, or slightly revised mandate. This could happen if the minister’s mandate had gotten him into trouble with the public, with the government caucus or if the opposition parties had been strong in their criticisms. (think Julian Fantino again).
However, this is not the case with Baird. On issues relating to Israel/Palestine, the NDP’s Paul Dewar and the Liberal Marc Garneau usually used more temperate language than the flamboyant Baird, but on substance there was rarely any significant difference. For example, when Baird denounced the Palestinian decision to join the ICC, Dewar and Garneau simply expressed disappointment lamenting that it would “hurt chances of a two state solution”.
So, in the absence of significant criticism from opposition parties, it is likely that the mandate Mr. Harper will give to the new minister of Foreign Affairs (whoever s/he is) will be very similar to the one Baird was working under. The new minister, may have a different style, but we have every reason to expect more of the same from this government.