I don’t normally follow Canadian politics closely enough to play the parlour game of predicting the winners and losers of the next cabinet shuffle, but sometimes you get a hunch worth wagering on, and this is one of those times. I’d bet a whole dollar that John Baird will be moved from the Department of Foreign Affairs to National Defence this summer.
Look at it from the prime minister’s standpoint. He needs a minister of defence who can weather the political storm that’s gathering around the department. Projected costs of the controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will probably continue to rise, which is terrible news for the Tories, who have attempted to build their brand on fiscal discipline. Further, as Postmedia’s Lee Berthiaume reported yesterday, even the enormous price tag on the F-35 acquisition is dwarfed by the government’s $35-billion shipbuilding plan, which is already behind schedule. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is too smart not to see the great political risks.
John Baird is the toughest minister in Harper’s lineup. Yet, the prime minister’s loyal consigliore has been over at the Department of Foreign Affairs doing… well, it’s not entirely clear what Baird has been doing. His big project – a new Office of Religious Freedom – has been delayed, but will presumably be launched very soon, liberating him to perform more challenging tasks elsewhere.
This would be reason enough to consider Baird a leading candidate for minister of defence, but there’s more: Harper seems to think a conflict with Iran is possible, and he surely knows the situation in Syria is unpredictable. If the prime minister believes there’s any chance that the Canadian Forces will go into action in the Middle East, he will want a rock-solid defence minister in place.
Now for the clincher: As foreign affairs minister, Baird has been following the Syrian and Iranian situations closely, and he has been the government’s chief interlocutor with Israel. He would need little preparation to dive into the job of defence minister. If anything, his appointment to the Department of National Defence would communicate continuity in Canadian foreign policy. Critics of the government’s foreign policy would find little comfort in this continuity, of course, but from the prime minister’s standpoint, it would make sense.
So, who would replace Baird as foreign affairs minister? Well, that would require another bet – and one dollar is all the skin that I’m willing to put into this game.