Will Baird’s resignation make a difference in Canada’s policy toward Israel/Palestine?

baird and lieberman

One of John Baird’s last acts as foreign minister was to sign a MOU with Avigdor Lieberman, committing both countries to fight the BDS movement. Will Baird’s resignation significantly change Canada’s foreign policy toward the Middle East? Perhaps, but I don’t think so. Read why.

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.


  1. As a Palestinian-Canadian, I believe that Canadians need to change this government during coming elections not only because of Palestine and extremist right wing foreign policy, but mainly due to damage this government has caused to democracy, environment and social justice inside Canada. Fortunately, many Canadians are already working to defeat Harper this year!

  2. As a Canadian and a long time supporter of the Palestinians in their struggle against fascistic Israel, I view it as absolutely imperative that in the interests of Canadians and Palestinians, we vote strategically in the upcoming federal election. Vote for the candidate in your riding who has the best chance of defeating the Conservative.
    One battle at a time.

  3. Canadian policy on Israel Palestine may not change much with Baird’s departure since it is obviously on a very short leash from PMO. But Baird seemed to take a personal pleasure from his unabashed and unqualified support of Israel even as he undermined official Canadian policy of getting to a two state solution with the establishment of Palestine. There were times at the UN when it was unclear for which country Baird was working as the many critics on all sides accused him of being more pro Israeli than Israel itself. His last act of signing a strategic agreement with Israel which further constrains independent Canadian diplomacy against the “isolation” of Israel is virtually unprecedented and a testament to Baird’s zeal in advancing israel’s interests. There was and is a serious price that Canada paid for this bias in its international relations. Certainly we can hope that at least in style if not substance Canada poist Baird can return to its more traditional balance on Israel Palestine to good effect.

  4. Defeating Harper’s Conservatives would make life somewhat easier for Canadians, that is our hope. But foreign policies will not change much. Ottawa is tied to Washington in its foreign policy and Canada has a strong history of support for Zionism (Yves Engler). There is a similar debate in Israel: Gideon Levy sort of hopes that Netanyahu will win because a radical like Netanyahu is more upfront about Israel’s racist apartheid system than so-called liberal Zionists like Livni ( See Mondoweiss for election video by Herzog who accuses Netanyahu of not doing enough to fight Hamas in Gaza)

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