I sat down with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird earlier this month for a year-end one-on-one interview on 2011 and the year ahead. I wasn’t able to fit everything of the wide-ranging interview into the print piece published Wednesday, so here’s some of what was interesting but didn’t make the cut.
On the Arab Spring and democracy:
Baird – “I don’t think the spark of the Arab Spring was necessarily a push for Liberal democracy. What it was is a lot of young people, particularly young men, unemployed, no hope, no opportunity. Janice Gross Stein (director of the Munk School of global affairs at the University of Toronto) says that’s the biggest challenge in the region, the tremendous number of young, unemployed men living at home with their parents, can’t get married, don’t have a job, no opportunity. Certainly is Tunisia it was. Then they look at the corruption within the government, cronyism within the government and that was the spark. I don’t think the spark was a push for Liberal democracy. As I’ve said, we’re not going to go from Gaddafi to Thomas Jefferson overnight.
Q – But how do we handle that?
Baird – “I think the biggest thing Canada can do is offer our support towards more freedoms and the transition to democracy”
Q – That is something you’ve brought up in committee, that we’re funding certain democratic (programs). But is there a level of concern there?
Baird – “Obviously we want to see democratic rights respected. We don’t want to see radical hardline governments. At the same time, when people have the choice, when people get to the ballot box for election, they do have choices.”
On Iran and concerns over its suspected nuclear program:
Baird – “Obviously the concern – there’s a civilian nuclear program. But I think the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) report, there’s no doubt they’re looking at the weaponization of nuclear technology and delivery mechanisms for it. It’s a huge issue for Iran having nuclear weapons. One of the challenges is people tend to share them with their friends. And given the huge support they’ve given to Hamas and Hezbollah and other non-state actors ,that is a deep concern. Not just for Israel but the whole region and the whole world. The other challenge is there’s a real potential if Iran did acquire nuclear weapons for proliferation in that region, other countries will want to get nuclear weapons as well”
Q – We know all these things – there’s a reason the world is biting its nails, but..
Baird- “We’re not biting our nails. That suggests we’re a passive observer. We’re not. We’re working pretty aggressively with our allies which include the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union and using pretty aggressive sanctions, pretty aggressive diplomatic pressure.”
On international criticism of Canada’s foreign policy
Baird – “You know, there’s some people who perhaps don’t share some of the policies we’ve pursued. We’ve taken a strong and principled stand in support of our democratic ally Israel. I was in the Middle East for five days, no one brought it up. I had a great meeting with Salam Fayad, the prime minister (of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank) when I was there, great guy. I met the other day with the new Palestinian authority representative here. Good guy. I’ve established a good relationship with my counterpart in the UAE. So we stand up for our values and our interests. People may not always agree with us, but they respect us. But the notion people say they – one reporter wrote when I went to the Middle East for five days that this was going to be the elephant in the room – well, no one brought it up. We had a good exchange about a lot of issues”
On expanding free trade
Baird – “I think increasingly foreign affairs is – a big part of our mandate in an economic mandate. The prosperity mandate, the jobs mandate. When you look at the United States, my two big priorities for this year was Keystone XL and Beyond the Border (initiative). Beyond the Border being much bigger than Keystone. A big success in one, a 13 month delay in the other. But it shows you – economic issues in our foreign policy.
Look at China. Obviously our biggest issue we’re dealing with there is a foreign investment protection agreement. That matters. With India it’s a free trade agreement. In the Asia-Pacific region, I’m certainly committed to playing a much higher level of engagement there. We did that at the APEC Summit, we did that at the ASEAN Summit. Post ministerial dialogue. We did it in China and we will continue to.”