Politics·Analysis

John Baird resigns: So, what does a former foreign affairs minister do next?

As he prepares to enter the next phase of his professional career, now former Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is unlikely to need a refresher course on the post-employment restrictions imposed on erstwhile public office holders.

Post-cabinet 'cooling off' period puts two-year hold on certain jobs

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird makes what may be his final appearance in the House as he announces that he will step down from his position, and resign his seat 'in the coming weeks.' (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

As he prepares to enter the next phase of his professional career, now-former foreign affairs minister John Baird is unlikely to need a refresher course on the post-employment restrictions imposed on public office holders.

Back in 2006, he was the minister responsible for shepherding through a minority Parliament his party's signature Accountability Act, which established the current federal ethics regime.

For the rest of us, though, here's a quick reminder:

Although he hasn't yet stepped down as MP — in his speech, he indicated he would do so "in the coming weeks" — the cooling-off period imposed on cabinet ministers starts ticking down immediately.

Starting today, and for the next two years, Baird cannot:

  • "Work for, contract with or serve on the board of directors of an entity with which [he] had direct and significant official dealings."
  • "Make representations to a department, organization, board, commission or tribunal with which [he] had direct and significant official dealings" over the same period of time.

In fact, Baird is banned from making direct representation to any minister who was in cabinet at the same time as he was — which would be all of them, as he was part of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's very first cabinet, and has remained there ever since.

Also verboten are any paid lobbying gigs  — full-time in-house, or as consultant for hire — for the next five years. If, however, he takes a job with a company that engages in lobbying activities, he would be permitted to take part in such efforts, provided it doesn't exceed 20 per cent of his official duties.

In that scenario, his employer would also be required to list his name on its registration filing. 

For the next two years, he would also be forbidden from lobbying former cabinet colleagues directly.

And the countdown clock for that particular provision won't start until he resigns his seat in the House of Commons, as MPs are also Designated Public Office Holders under the Lobbying Act.

No 'improper advantage' allowed

Finally, like all former public office holders, he is barred for life from "taking any improper advantage" of his past life in government, as well as from acting on behalf of any person or organization on any specific issue — a legal case or policy decision — on which he advised the government, and, of course, of passing on any information gleaned during his time in office that isn't already public knowledge.

In any case, in the unlikely event that Baird finds himself at loose ends after officially vacating his seat in the House, he could always look to former cabinet colleague Jim Prentice for inspiration.

in 2010, Prentice shocked the capital when he announced that he would be stepping down as environment minister on the spot, and resigning from the House a few weeks later in order to take up a new gig at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

It was a move that, while abrupt, was permitted under the post-employment rules as he had not had "direct and significant official dealings" with the bank during his time at Environment.

Baird's more expansive portfolio could, of course, close a few more doors, at least temporarily.

Would that apply to a senior posting at the United Nations or one of its agencies, as mused about just last week by former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd?

Likely not, but ultimately, it would be up to Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson to decide if his previous dealings with the organization crossed the line.

Still, there are any number of financial institutions, law firms and corporations that would be only too happy to add his name to the company masthead.

He could also hang out a shingle offering his services as a government relations guru, provided he didn't lobby his former colleagues directly.

Thanks to the generous Commons pension plan, when he hits 55 a decade from now, he'll start collecting an annual stipend of about $54,000 a year, which the Canadian Taxpayers Federation calculates will hit a lifetime total of more than $3 million if he lives to age 90. (He will not, however, receive so much as a loonie for his time at Queen's Park, as the Ontario Legislature phased out pensions for MPPs in 1996.)

And if he does follow the same path taken by Prentice, who knows?

We could see him pop up on the political battleground again.

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