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Canada's latest environmental steward is a man with a reputation that is equal parts aggressive policy-maker and partisan brawler.

John Baird, 37, was handed the Conservative government's hottest potato last week when he moved from his post at Treasury Board to the head of Environment Canada.

He replaces the demure Rona Ambrose, and the contrast in political styles could not be sharper.

Wags like to joke that Baird's question period performances alone contributed to global warming.

"Obviously he has his own communication style," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, after the newest cabinet members were sworn in at Rideau Hall.

"That said, I think Minister Baird would be the first to tell you - and I can certainly tell you - that communications alone will not address the challenges we face in terms of the environment, and climate change in particular."

Harper noted that Baird was given the job of shepherding the federal Accountability Act into law as the government's first priority after winning last January's election.

"He has a lot of experience and a proven track record at moving things to a conclusion through a minority Parliament."

Liberals, needless to say, had a more jaundiced view.

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion slammed the choice of Baird for the sensitive environment post, calling him "adversarial" and "outrageous."

The massive Accountability Act was supported by all parties in the Commons and yet Baird delighted in pounding the Liberals with accusations of corruption every time they raised the legislation in debate.

"He was determined to squeeze partisan advantage in a way which was uniquely his own," said Liberal environment critic John Godfrey, who worries that will continue to be Baird's modus operandi in the environment portfolio.

Harper himself may have signalled as much when he claimed the Liberals did "absolutely nothing" on the environment during their 13 years in power.

The Conservatives slashed a multitude of Liberal climate-change projects when they came to power last January.

Godfrey said Baird's office made a welcome advance by suggesting he meet the new minister soon. But he also cautioned that Conservatives "can't both reach out and continue to misrepresent what happened over the past 13 years."

Bruce Cox, executive director of Greenpeace Canada, says he's "cautiously optimistic" that the Conservative ministerial switch is more than cosmetic.

"He's an experienced politician," Cox said of Baird.

"He's not hailing from the oilpatch (like Ambrose), but comes out of heartland Ontario where (Conservatives) have to pick up seats. So we're hopeful that it's actually a policy change."

Cox also noted that Baird is a member of the Harper cabinet's priorities and planning committee, a key decision-making group that did not include Ambrose.

The Sierra Club agrees the government must prove itself on the environment by taking action on a number of fronts, include committing to meeting Canada's Kyoto targets.

What Baird, a lifelong conservative political activist from Ottawa, does not have is any environmental track record to speak of.

After a youthful start as something of Red Tory activist in Ontario, Baird swung hard to the right and became a charter member of then-premier Mike Harris's Common Sense Revolution of the mid-1990s.

He was the provincial minister in charge of expanding "workfare" programs that slashed the number of welfare recipients and later introduced drug testing and expanded fraud investigations in the welfare system.

Dan Tisch, a longtime Conservative activist from Toronto who has known Baird since he was 15, said the young firebrand has mellowed, despite his continuing reputation for bombast in the Commons.

"He was attracted to the simple solutions," Tisch said in an interview.

"My sense is he's come back a bit the other way. His experience in Ontario politics has shown him that the world isn't black and white."

The closest Baird came to an environmental portfolio was his stint as Ontario energy minister, when he was responsible for managing the troubled deregulation of the provincial electricity grid.

Despite Baird's lack of environmental background, he is a stickler for details and "very much a believer that there's right and there's wrong," said Tisch.

"I think he would see protection of the environment as something that is on the side of the angels. From there it's just a matter of: 'OK, how can that be reconciled with a strong and healthy economy and a strong business climate?' " Some environmentalist skeptics have noted that Baird cut his political teeth working for Conservative cabinet minister Perrin Beatty in the early 1990s.

Beatty now heads the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, a business lobby that has been sharply critical of Canada's targets under the Kyoto protocol on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.