“SOME MINISTERS CAN be treated like pinatas,” explains John Baird. “I’m not a pinata. I’m not just going to sit there while you whack me, repeatedly. And I give as good as I get.”
For sure, the minister of the environment, so often prone to yelling and pointing and other public displays of outrage, is rarely likened to a candy-filled Mexican ornament. More often, it is to a notorious canine that he is compared. “He’s a hyper-aggressive pit bull,” wrote a Toronto Star reporter when Baird was elevated to his current portfolio. Offered the Prime Minister: “John has his own communication style.”
Asked to account for himself, Baird is uncommonly diplomatic. “The odd time I’ve been known to go a little over the top [but]
I think the Prime Minister is comfortable with my style. When he appointed me to this job, he certainly knew what I had done in the last job.”
That last job was no less than president of the Treasury Board. The man often seen squiring Laureen Harper around town was charged with overseeing the Federal Accountability Act,
this government’s first signature piece of legislation. Typically demure, Baird hailed that bill, after it was given royal assent in December 2006, as the “biggest reform” in the history of Canadian government. Notably for Baird, it also offered a chance to publicly demonstrate bipartisanship, the Conservative working with the similarly wild-eyed Pat Martin of the NDP to get the act through Parliament.
The next month, he was named environment minister, charged with managing a perceived weakness for this government. And where his predecessor, the once-ballyhooed Rona Ambrose, appeared overwhelmed, Baird seems emboldened by the burden. Faced with constant criticism from his opposition counterparts and, in the case of recent international talks in Bali, withering ridicule from environmentalists, Baird has rarely appeared even the least bit chastened or defensive. “Fm tough,” he says.
He arrives most days for question period with a binder full of research. After particularly witty heckles in the House of Commons, he will sometimes smile up at the press gallery in search of approval. And though obviously more outgoing than the Prime Minister, Baird most certainly speaks to the ultra-competitive partisan in Stephen Harper. Indeed, even when appealing for conciliation, Baird can barely contain himself.
“I had hoped there could have been a greater opportunity to work together and compromise,” he laments of the environment. “But I think the challenge is, for any of the three opposition parties, if any one of them were to compromise one per cent, the environmental movement and others would’ve been all over them. And that’s unfortunate.”
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