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John Baird
Photo source: Remixed from a photo by Andrew Rusk published under a Creative Commons licens.

John Baird

“Drowning Out the Voices of Canadians”

“We’ll go over the heads of the members of Parliament; go over the heads, frankly, of the Governor General; go right to the Canadian people."

John Baird in an interview with veteran political journalist Don Newman regarding the government’s request to prorogue parliament in December 2008.

At first blush, this comment by John Baird might just seem, well, downright democratic.  Seriously, what could be more democratic than going to the Canadian people, right? 

Baird was surmising the government’s next step in the event that the Governor General, who is Canada's official Head of State, denied the government’s request to prorogue parliament; a request that was widely seen as a means of escaping sure defeat in the House of Commons and being replaced by a coalition government.  In Canada's parliamentary system of government, it is the Governor General alone who has the constitutional authority to summon parliament, to prorogue parliament and to dissolve parliament.

Within the context of our constitution, Baird’s statement could be seen as contemptuous of our Constitution and system of democracy.  No matter, Baird was set loose on the airwaves and in the mainstream media to trumpet all matter of fallacy regarding the legitimacy of coalitions and to instill the fear of God in the Canadian population that a “pact with the devil” and “an unholy alliance” was about to be unleashed upon them, referring to the Bloc Quebecois’ role in an accord with the other two opposition parties.

Now, if we thought for one minute that John Baird was a stupid man, we could forgive his actions.  But, we are convinced that he is not a stupid man.  He has a university degree, has held numerous cabinet posts at both the provincial and federal levels, and, most recently was appointed as Government House Leader.

So, here’s the rub. We cannot reasonably believe that someone who has been around the political block, as has John Baird, would not know and understand the validity of coalitions within the parliamentary system of government.  We also cannot believe that he was unaware of the agreement among the opposition parties that clearly indicated that the Bloc was not a formal member of the coalition and would not hold any position within a coalition government.  These facts were clearly reported in many newspaper articles. So, we must conclude that in the 2008 prorogation issue, he was willfully misleading Canadians.

So, let’s fast-forward from December 2008 to January 2009.  The Conservative government is under fire for refusing to provide documents ordered by Parliament on the subject of the Afghan detainees and the Conservatives are threatened with a potential “contempt of parliament” ruling from the Speaker of the House of Commons.  Understanding full well the Practice of Parliamentary Supremacy, the government again headed for the protection that would be offered it through prorogation rather than face the House.  This time, Harper did not even offer the Governor General the courtesy of a personal visit; he simply called-in the prorogation request by phone.  The reason for prorogation:  Canada was hosting the Olympic Games!!  And again, Harper could count on his faithful mouthpiece and personal attack dog, John Baird, to be in the forefront of selling fallacious arguments to the people of Canada.

On practically every contentious issue facing the Conservative government (from the evils of coalitions to the Afghanistan detainee  issue to Lisa Raitt, Rahim Jaffer, Helena Guergis, the Census imbroglio, the right of Committees to question political staffers, Bev Oda, and the Conservative “in and out” election spending scheme) John Baird has been pushed out in front even when the issues had no relevance to his ministerial portfolio.  And why not?  The Baird modus operandi has served the Conservatives well.  Growl, bare your teeth, spit if you have to, and blare the party line.  In Baird’s world, he who shouts longest and loudest wins the argument.  And, as we are well aware via former Harper advisor and political scientist Tom Flanagan, the litanies of logic offered by this Conservative government do not have to be true; they merely have to be plausible.

Those who tune into Question Period on a regular basis are all too familiar with Baird’s outbursts and screaming matches.  Of course, if one is looking for vintage Baird, one need look no further than the chaos he created at the Government Operations Committee of June 2010.

After it was revealed that the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) document recommending funding for KAIROS was doctored to include a ^NOT and subsequently that it was done at the direction of the CIDA Minister, Bev Oda, that was the limit of the Minister’s admission.  She refused to shed light on who inserted the infamous ^NOT.  Opposition Members of Parliament attempted to address Ms. Oda during Question Period.  But instead of hearing directly from the Minister responsible for CIDA, Oda remained seated and John Baird stood to regale the House with protestations that the Minister made the “right decision”, the “brave and courageous” decision.  He did not tread anywhere near the more serious issue of the altering of a government document, but changed the channel to make out that Minister Oda was brave, almost a hero.  However, the opposition felt that the matter was serious enough to table a motion asking for the Speaker of the House to rule on whether Minister Bev Oda breached parliamentary privilege.

The sad part in this tale is that it doesn’t have to be this way.  Baird does know how to behave with civility.  Just ask the people who live in his riding.  Anyone who has observed him working constituents will tell you how personable and charming he can be.  Even Ralph Goodale, commenting on Baird’s appointment as Government House Leader, said that “"It all depends on which John Baird is going to show up.  "Sometimes he can be a pretty rough-and-tumble, over-the-top partisan.  On other days, a little calmer."

John Baird does know better.  So, his behavour is all just part of the game, but is this the kind of “game” that we want from our senior politicians?  Honestly, would we let our children behave this way with impunity?  Is this the kind of behavior that will inspire the forty percent of Canadians who did not vote in our last federal election to become more involved in the political process?  Baird, simply put, is a “bully”, and as Siobhan Coady stated in a Committee meeting "bullies in the schoolyard should never be listened to, my mother taught me that, Mr. Baird".