February 3, 2015 / 2:34 AM / in 3 years

Canada foreign minister to quit amid talk of tension with PM

Canada's Foreign Minister John Baird speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa November 24, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird is unexpectedly set to resign from the federal cabinet this week amid what sources said had been tensions with the prime minister’s office.

Baird’s imminent departure - confirmed by a source late on Monday - will deprive the right-leaning Conservatives of a senior cabinet figure and renowned campaigner in the run-up to an election set for October this year.

Polls show Prime Minister Stephen Harper would most likely lose his majority in Parliament and could even be thrown out of power.

A source close to Baird said the minister, 45, wanted to start a new career after 20 years in public service.

“This was simply the right time to move on,” the source told Reuters.

Baird’s office said the minister would make an announcement at 10 a.m. on Tuesday.

Speaking separately, two well-placed political sources said Baird’s relationship with Harper’s office had deteriorated in recent months, in particular over policy towards Russia.

Baird, the sources said, had pushed for Ottawa to slap sanctions on allies of President Vladimir Putin who had business ties with Canada. The minister was overruled by Harper’s office.

Another source with knowledge of the situation said Baird had made it clear privately over the last few months that he was looking to leave politics.

Baird, known for a punishing travel schedule and strident support for Israel, had most recently been trying to secure the release of Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy in Egypt.

Baird joined Harper’s government when the Conservatives took power in early 2006 and had been in cabinet ever since, occupying various posts including minister of environment and minister of transport.

The source close to Baird, asked about tension with Harper’s office, said Baird had always been a loyal supporter of the prime minister and would campaign for the party in October.

Baird started his political career in the province of Ontario in 1995, first becoming a local legislator and then spending four years in the provincial government.

One obvious contender for his job would be Employment Minister Jason Kenney, who a Conservative source said very much wanted the post. Kenney is enormously influential within the party and is a leading contender to one day replace Harper.

Baird is a fervent supporter of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and even named his cat after her.

In 2009, Canadian media reported that Baird had caused a brief stir by sending a text message announcing “Thatcher has died”. It quickly emerged he had been referring to his cat, not the politician.

Writing by David Ljunggren and Amran Abocar; Editing by Alan Crosby, Robert Birsel

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