Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Triumph of the Philestines

The news in this morning's Globe and Mail that John Baird will become Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs is truly depressing. A graduate of Queen's University, Baird is not stupid.

The problem is that he is uniquely unqualified for the job. He proved that in spades last year when he carried the Prime Minister's water at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change. Baird argued that there could be no progress until China and India signed onto a deal. He stood for inertia as the planet continued to warm. And that, in a nutshell, encapsulates the Harper government's foreign policy: Despite the evidence, it's best to ignore inconvenient truths.

Harper's appointment of Baird reminds those of us who taught in Ontario of Mike Harris' appointment of John Snoblen as his first Minister of Education. Snoblen dropped out of high school in grade eleven, never to return. But he inherited his father's waste management company and became quite wealthy. He then set about "reforming" Ontario's education system by applying the same skill set he used to move garbage. He was famously videotaped, lecturing his ministry's employees on how to accomplish his objective. Sometimes, he said, one had to "create a crisis" to accomplish change. And that is exactly what he did.

Harris himself was a failed teacher. After dropping out of university following his freshman year, he attended teacher's college and taught elementary school for three years before moving on to more lucrative employment. Yet Harris and Snoblen -- based on their vast experience -- were certain that they knew how to fix education in Ontario. The province's schools have never recovered from their efforts.

Baird no doubt has the prime minister's confidence. That is the key qualification for the job. The fact that Foreign Affairs is not Harper's bailiwick is irrelevant. Harper would never appoint someone who he felt knew more about a portfolio than himself. When the United Nations rejected Canada's bid for a seat on the Security Council late last year, they grasped this inconvenient truth. The world does not need more philistines.

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