Government official: Canadian foreign minister to step down

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TORONTO (AP) — Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird will be announcing his resignation from the Cabinet on Tuesday, a senior government official said.

The official who is close to the minister said late Monday that Baird simply felt it was the right time to move on after a successful career in both the Ontario provincial legislature and federal parliament. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak ahead of Tuesday's announcement.

Baird, 45, is one of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper's most trusted and loyal cabinet ministers. He previously served in Harper's cabinet as house leader, environment minister, transport minister and treasury board president. He has a reputation for being hyper-partisan. He often escorted Harper's wife, Laureen, to official events when Harper couldn't attend.

A statement from Baird's office said he planned to make an announcement in Parliament on Tuesday morning, but did not disclose any details.

The official said Baird won't be running for parliament in the next federal election, scheduled for October.

"The minister is looking to turn the page on 20 years of public service, and like anyone in public office is looking for new opportunities at the young age of 45," the official said.

Baird also served as a minister in Ontario's provincial government.

Baird had little international experience before becoming foreign minister in 2011. He is known as a staunch supporter of Israel. Palestinian protesters hurled eggs and shoes at Baird's convoy last month during a visit to the West Bank city of Ramallah to meet with the Palestinian foreign minister.

In recent days, Baird has been working to secure the release of Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy from a Cairo prison. Baird said it was "imminent."

Baird sparked a diplomatic furor in 2009 when he sent a short text to a friend that read simply: "Thatcher has died." Harper reportedly had his spokesman begin preparing an official statement to mourn the passing of the former British prime minister after word spread through a crowd of about 1,700 people at a black-tie event in Toronto that Harper was attending. But in fact, it was Baird's beloved tabby cat, Thatcher, who had passed away.

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