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Canada’s foreign minister, a friend of Israel, to step down

John Baird set to resign Tuesday; said Palestinians made ‘huge mistake’ with ICC bid

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, center left, shakes hands with his Canadian counterpart John Baird during their meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015. (photo credit: AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, center left, shakes hands with his Canadian counterpart John Baird during their meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015. (photo credit: AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

TORONTO — Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird will be announcing his resignation from the Cabinet on Tuesday, a senior government official said.

The official who is close to the minister said late Monday that Baird simply felt it was the right time to move on after a successful career in both the Ontario provincial legislature and federal parliament. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak ahead of Tuesday’s announcement.

Baird, 45, is one of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s most trusted and loyal cabinet ministers. He previously served in Harper’s cabinet as house leader, environment minister, transport minister and treasury board president. He has a reputation for being partisan. He often escorted Harper’s wife, Laureen, to official events when Harper couldn’t attend.

A statement from Baird’s office said he planned to make an announcement in Parliament on Tuesday morning, but did not disclose any details.

The official said Baird won’t be running for parliament in the next federal election, scheduled for October.

“The minister is looking to turn the page on 20 years of public service, and like anyone in public office is looking for new opportunities at the young age of 45,” the official said.

Baird has also served as a minister in Ontario’s provincial government.

He had little international experience before becoming foreign minister in 2011. He was known as a staunch supporter of Israel.

“People may disagree with our position with respect to Israel, but so be it,” Baird told the Times of Israel in January, as he wrapped up a three-day visit to the region. “It’s always wise to speak with moral clarity,” he submitted, adding that despite Ottawa’s unflinching friendship with the Jewish state, “we have a pretty good relationship with most of the Arab countries in the region.”

The Palestinians “made a huge mistake” by pressing war crimes charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Baird declared earlier that month.  “We’ve registered our objection and will continue to advocate for them to take a different course,” he said.

Baird had a tense relationship with the Palestinians, as his visit to Ramallah in January underlined. While Palestinian protestors booed, hurled shoes and eggs at Baird and told him he was unwelcome in their land, senior Palestine Liberation Organization official and ex-chief peace negotiator Saeb Erekat released a statement denouncing Baird and urging him to ask the Palestinian people for forgiveness for his country’s consistent support for Israel.

“The Palestinian people as well as the rest of the Arab and Muslim countries deserve an apology from the Canadian government for years of systematic attempts at blocking the right of the Palestinian people to a state of their own,” Erekat declared. Canada stands “on the wrong side of history” by blindly supporting Israel’s “apartheid policies,” Erekat charged, attacking Baird personally for contributing to alleged Israeli violations of Palestinian rights.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report. 

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