Former Conservative cabinet minister John Baird decides to stay out of leadership race

OTTAWA — Former Conservative cabinet minister John Baird says he's not running to lead the federal Conservative party.

"I sincerely appreciate all the emails, phone calls and offers of time and energy," he tweeted Thursday evening. "When I left politics after 20 years of elected office, I committed myself to an equally rewarding career in the private sector. I am incredibly happy with my post-political life and enjoy my work."

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So, he wrote, "I want to provide some clarity that I will not be standing for leader of the Conservative Party of Canada."

His announcement puts an end to days of speculation that he might enter the race, talk that began late last month after both current MP Pierre Poilievre and former interim party leader Rona Ambrose decided not to run.

Baird had been poised to run Poilievre's campaign, but Poilievre dropped out last month, saying his heart wasn't in it.

The absence of what some in the party feel is a "true blue" voice in the contest — a role some saw as belonging to either Poilievre or Ambrose — put pressure on Baird to join.

His decision not to leave his life in the private sector will likely be a relief for the only other two candidates officially registered to run so far: his former cabinet colleagues Peter MacKay and Erin O'Toole.

Both men are pegged as being closer to the progressive wing of the party, though O'Toole in particular has taken a more right-wing tone since launching his campaign earlier this month.

Baird, 51, has been involved in politics since his teens. He parlayed a precocious career in Progressive Conservative activism to a spot as a member of Ontario's provincial parliament, representing an Ottawa riding, and spent 10 years in the legislature before moving onto federal politics.

He became a federal MP in 2006 and went on to serve in four different cabinet portfolios under the Conservative government led by Stephen Harper, including four years as foreign affairs minister.

He left politics in 2015. He is a business adviser at Bennett Jones, a major law firm, and sits on several corporate boards.

"I look forward to an exciting leadership race, and I will continue to remain a proud Conservative activist and enthusiastically support the policies and principles of our party," Baird wrote.

Potential leadership candidates have until Feb. 27 to enter the race, and Conservatives are to choose their new leader June 27.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 13, 2020.

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