Canadian diplomatic changes in store as new U.S. administration takes over

CanWest News Service
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OTTAWA - Barack Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration could bring change not only to the top U.S. diplomatic job in Ottawa, but to Canada's ambassadorship in Washington as well.
David Wilkins will resign as U.S. ambassador to Canada that day, but there is speculation that his Canadian counterpart, Michael Wilson, might be right behind him.
Both are political appointees, which made the departure of Wilkins, a Republican who worked on George W. Bush's re-election bid four years ago, nothing short of a certainty.
But the future of Wilson, a former Conservative finance minister under Brian Mulroney, is becoming a bit of a wild card.
Wilson might be replaced because of his perceived role in the NAFTA-gate affair that cost Obama key Democratic primaries in Ohio and Pennsylvania to Hillary Clinton.
Obama's economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, told Canadian diplomats at the Chicago consulate in March the Illinois senator's musings about renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement were just political posturing.
Goolsbee at first denied the conversation, but a Canadian government memo that confirmed it was later leaked, and it hurt Obama.
But the controversy has not stopped Goolsbee's political rise. Last week, he was appointed to the top staff position of Obama's economic advisory committee.
The president-elect heralded the 39-year-old University of Chicago professor as "one of America's most promising economic minds."
The economic website RGE Monitor also endorsed Goolsbee's appointment: "Given his important role in the campaign, it's hardly a surprise that his voice will play a major role in shaping economic policy."
With Goolsbee set to play such as pivotal economic role in the new Obama administration, it raises questions about whether Wilson can carry on given that he was in charge when the leak occurred.
Former Canadian envoy to Washington, Michael Kergin, feels strongly that Wilson can continue, insisting that the Obama team would be willing to forgive and forget.
"This was a bump in the road in a campaign. There have been millions of bumps in the road," said Kergin.
He is referring to the bitter attacks on Obama's fitness to be president that came from the Clintons, who blasted his relative lack of foreign policy experience and fitness to be commander-in-chief.
"This was a mild indiscretion in a long campaign," said Colin Robertson, a former senior Canadian diplomat in Washington.
Given that Clinton is now poised to become Obama's secretary of state, Kergin said the Goolsbee incident is small potatoes in comparison.
"I don't think there's any residue from that as far as the Obama people are concerned," said Kergin, who served in Washington during a particularly frosty time in bilateral relations between 2000 and 2005.
That's when Canada's Liberal government could barely hide its disdain for the Bush Republicans as it opted out of the Iraq war and the Pentagon's missile defence shield.
"Mike Wilson is doing a terrific job. It will be up to whether he wants to stay or whether Mr. Harper has any other ideas. I don't see any reason to open up the question because of what happened," said Kergin.
If Prime Minister Stephen Harper does replace Wilson, he will have to find someone he can trust, and someone who will have his ear. The most heavily rumoured candidate would be his former foreign affairs and trade minister, David Emerson, who did not seek re-election.
As for Obama's Ottawa choice, it is not out of the question for the job to remain unfilled for several months after the inauguration because Obama will have hundreds of appointments to make, and be subjected to Congressional approval.

Organizations: University of Chicago, Pentagon

Geographic location: America, Washington, OTTAWA Canada Ohio Pennsylvania Chicago Illinois Iraq

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