Baird impressed U.S. diplomats: WikiLeaks

Even in early 2007, when John Baird took over the environment portfolio, American diplomats saw a bright future for the feisty Conservative MP.
John Baird is all smiles after a ceremony on Wednesday where he was anointed the new Foreign Affairs minister, a high post he apparently coveted, according to leaked diplomatic cables. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Even in early 2007 when John Baird took over the environment portfolio, American diplomats saw a bright future for the feisty Conservative MP.

"Baird is a young, ambitious and dynamic minister who should be one of the Conservatives' top leadership prospects in the future," a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable says.

Americans devoted an entire nine-page diplomatic cable to analyzing Baird after he was appointed to the tricky file in January 2007 and he met with the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins.

The document, dated Feb. 2, 2007, and classified as confidential, was among a batch of leaked U.S. State Department cables recently released to CBC News.

"Baird clearly enjoys and is comfortable with the rough-and-tumble of Parliamentary debate in contrast to his predecessor Rona Ambrose," says a section of the cable marked "embassy comment."

"It is clear that Baird hopes a strong performance handling the politically sensitive environmental file will eventually be rewarded by his appointment to an even higher profile ministry," it says.

The flattering portrayal of Baird — particularly in comparison to his predecessor, Rona Ambrose, who is described as ineffective — suggests the newly anointed foreign affairs minister clearly made a positive impression abroad.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper named Baird to the coveted top cabinet job on Wednesday amid questions over how the known Conservative party "pit bull" would fare on the world stage where diplomacy is key.

Baird, 41, previously held the post as Treasury Board president and it was a job he enjoyed, according to the cables.

"Baird volunteered that he had not asked to be environment minister," the U.S. diplomatic cable says. "He had been happy as Treasury Board President where, as a fiscal conservative, he could cut 'stupid' spending."

Baird expected defence file

The Ottawa West-Nepean MP recalled when the prime minister called him to 24 Sussex ahead of the 2007 cabinet shuffle and told him of his new post. Baird said he would not have chosen it, but was now delighted by its challenges.

"He regards it as a 'first-line' ministerial position and recognizes that the environment and Afghanistan may be the two most important issues in the next election," the cable says.

And perhaps prescient, given his current post, Baird's other topic of conversation with U.S. officials was Afghanistan.

He recounted a trip the previous month to visit Canadian Forces members stationed in Afghanistan and stressed the importance of Canada's involvement in NATO fighting the Taliban as "an essential national commitment."

Baird also described spending a cold night sleeping in a tent with the soldiers.

Baird went on to say that he was "proud to fire an artillery piece (although he did not think that the shell had caused casualties)," the cable says.

Indeed, it was the national defence file that Baird thought Harper might allot him back in 2007.

"He wondered whether he would be switched to the Department of National Defence in light of his Afghan trip," said the cable. "He got Environment instead, but was not dissatisfied."