POLITICS

John Baird: 7 highlights as foreign affairs minister

02/03/2015 05:00 EST | Updated 04/05/2015 05:59 EDT
John Baird, who stepped down from cabinet today and away from federal politics, had an eventful tenure as Canada's foreign affairs minister.

Take a look at some of the memorable items from his file:

ISIS mission

Baird has been heavily involved in Canada’s military mission against ISIS fighters. He announced that Canadian CF-18s would strike ISIS positions in a bombing campaign in Iraq late last year.

It came shortly after he represented Canada at a 24-nation conference where all participants vowed to help fight ISIS militants "by any means necessary, including military assistance." 

Speaking to CBC News in December about the long-term situation in Iraq, Baird said Canada will reflect on “where we’ve been” and what the future needs are at the “appropriate time."

“We are going to have to stop the flow of foreign fighters for many years. We’re going to have to stop the flow of financing to terrorism going forward. We are going to have to make sure they run an inclusive government,” Baird said of Iraq.

“The enemy here is a group of barbaric people doing evil things,” he said, but added that Canada has no plans to extend military operations to Syria.

Staunch support of Israel

Palestinian protesters recently hurled eggs and shoes at Baird's convoy in the West Bank, accusing Canada of siding with Israel.

Baird was not hit, and later joked about it .

"Listen, I was in Mike Harris's cabinet for four years. I've had a lot worse," he said about his time with the Ontario premier.

Baird was a vocal supporter of the United Nations Security Council blocking a Palestinian effort to set a three-year deadline for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Baird has spoken out against similar Palestinian statehood initiatives at the UN.

"Canada believes strongly in a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and that negotiations provide the only viable path to lasting peace," Baird said.

Baird earned applause at the UN General Assembly for firing back at critics who said Canada isolated itself internationally, saying his government will not "go along to get along with some moral relativist crowd at the United Nations or elsewhere."

Baird has said he wants to strengthen Canada's partnership with Israel on a number of fronts, including security and trade.

Vocal critic of Russia

Baird compared Russia's troop presence in Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula to Hitler's invasion of Sudetenland, a part of the former Czechoslovakia, in 1938.

As Russia moved to annex the Ukrainian region of Crimea last March, Baird announced that Canada would impose more economic sanctions and travel bans against an additional 17 Ukrainian and Russian officials. 

When Baird spoke to CBC News Network's Power & Politics, host Evan Solomon noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed he was protecting Russian rights in Crimea, which has a majority of Russian-speaking citizens.

Baird replied, "The Sudetenland had a majority of Germans. That gave Germany no right to do this in the late 1930s."

Asked by Solomon if he was making a comparison to the Nazis, Baird replied, "When you have one country invading one of its neighbours, and using this type of outrageous and ludicrous rhetoric, it's hard not to."

Then in late December, just one day after Putin blamed Western sanctions for his country's economic woes, Baird announced Canada would be imposing additional sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine and Russia’s continued material support to separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Conflict in Libya

The first crisis under Baird’s watch as foreign affairs minister was Canada’s response to the war in Libya in 2011.

He travelled to Benghazi in June of that year to meet with rebels.

The NATO-led mission in Libya provided air cover to protect civilians and allow rebel forces to overthrow Moammar Gadhafi. Canada sent CF-18s, which dropped bombs on Libyan targets. More than 400 Canadian Forces members participated in the mission.

Baird signed a Canadian bomb destined for Gadhafi's infrastructure with the message: "Free Libya. Democracy."

"I was incredibly, incredibly moved by the courage and determination," Baird said in 2011 of Libyan rebels. "Our vision is a strong, prosperous Libya, living in freedom and living peacefully with its neighbours.”

But, he added, "I don't think we're going to move from Gadhafi to Thomas Jefferson." And he said the post-Gadhafi regime "won't be perfect."

Digital diplomacy and Iran

Baird has expressed concern about the growing attempts of governments around the world to control the internet.

In January, his government threw its support behind a "digital public square" project launched by the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.

Baird called it Canada's latest foray into the field of "direct diplomacy," a strategy to bypass repressive regimes and reach out directly to people in countries that do not allow free debate. The immediate target of the Munk School project is Iran, a country that bans access to popular social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Baird closed Canada's embassy in Iran in 2012, citing concerns for the safety of its diplomats in Tehran. 

However, Baird was criticized for failing to also mention that one of the countries taken to task over internet freedom by Freedom House, an independent democracy watchdog, is Canada.

U.S. ties

Canada’s relationship with one of its most important allies, the U.S., has been fostered by Baird’s relationship with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Baird applauded the move by the United States to re-establish relations with Cuba

During a news conference with Kerry and Mexican Foreign Secretary Jose Antonio Meade at Faneuil Hall in Boston on Saturday, Baird called the move initiated by U.S. President Barack Obama a historic and overdue development, adding Canada strongly supports the new policy.

The Canadian government played a cameo role in the discussions that led to the historic thaw, hosting a series of negotiating sessions between the Obama administration and the Castro government.

Baird also discussed trilateral issues at the meeting with Kerry and Meade.

Mohamed Fahmy

One of the last files on Baird’s plate keeping him busy until his resignation was securing the release of Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy from a Cairo prison.

However, Baird has been working for months on Fahmy’s release, including a trip to Egypt, and said his freedom is "imminent."

Fahmy was working for Al-Jazeera in December 2013 when he was arrested and imprisoned in Cairo. He is accused of spreading false news and supporting Egypt's outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.