Help Wanted – US Ambassador To Canada
Quick; what’s the name of the U.S. Ambassador to Canada? Sorry, that was a trick question. We currently don’t have an ambassador representing our southern neighbors. The last guy was an Obama appointee, who was a big fundraiser for the U.S. president during the last elections. He had been on the job for four years and remained largely off the Canadian public’s radar the entire time.
Do you remember his name? Probably not. However, with the resignation of David Jacobsen on July 15th, there has since been a vacancy for the job of U.S. Ambassador to Canada. It will be interesting to see who Obama will choose to fill the role, since his choice, as with every American ambassadorial selection, sends a strong message about how the current administration views Canadian/U.S. relations. Sadly, the selections in the past have been a constant stream of political hacks and flacks, bag men and bank men, most of which would have had a hard time finding Canada on a map of North America.
You have to go all the way back to 1985 with the appointment of Thomas Niles which was eight ambassadors ago, to find a professional career diplomat in the position. Even more telling is that the lack of knowledge about Canada that the vast majority of U.S. ambassadors have had prior to them being sent north. It has not been since Gordon Giffen was appointed in ’97, have we had an ambassador who had actually been to this country prior to their ambassadorship. Even before Giffen’s tenure, having reps with any Canadian content whatsoever was a rarity.
There are a few ways of viewing this apparent affront from our trading partner and neighbor. It may not be all bad. For example, the explanation may be something as simple as the possibility our relationship is so close, there is less of a need to have any urgency in appointing a replacement for Jacobson. Furthermore, due to this closeness, it is a handy place to assign an appointee who has not got the credentials in diplomatic circles to go where things might get difficult. It should be, after all, a fairly puffball position to hold given the relative lack of acrimony between our countries. They don’t need to send their best person here. Our two nations’ excellent relationship would make the appointment of a high level diplomat a waste of resources badly needed elsewhere. That is the best case scenario. The second possibility is that nobody wants the job. One of the names that had been bandied about was Caroline Kennedy. She, however, obviously despaired at being sent to the frozen north to spend her days in Ottawa, arguably one of the most boring nation capitals in the G8, and held out for the Japanese ambassadorship instead. It is a sad state of affairs if Canada is viewed as being that lack-luster and inhospitable that the ambassador job goes to the guy with the shortest straw.
The third possibility is that Canada really doesn’t matter that much to the U.S. This is possibly our biggest fear as a nation. We have always looked up to our “bigger brother” and want to be seen as having a special relationship with them that is not enjoyed by any other country. We feel left out when American presidents speak glowingly of their friendships with Britain and other European countries. They are our BFF*, dammit! Unfortunately, Americans routinely send out signals that Canada is largely irrelevant to them, other than as a convenient trading partner. The ridiculous machinations surrounding approval of the Keystone XL pipeline is a good example of this. This latest ambassadorial slight is more proof to many that the relationship between our two countries is horribly one-sided.
Some might claim that not having an ambassador in place is a sign of either incompetence or inconsideration but is still not all that serious. Given the seemingly total lack of a public profile that Jacobson garnered in his tenure, a fair argument could be made most Canadians wouldn’t notice whether there was an ambassador in place or not.
Perhaps having an almost invisible U.S. ambassador is preferable to the alternative, as well. We certainly don’t need a representative such as Paul Cellucci, who held the post from 2001 to 2005. This much reviled “diplomat” appeared to spend his entire term insulting Canadians and pillorying us for not joining in the Iraq war. It is worthy of note that Cellucci recanted that position after he retired and lauded Canada for resisting the pressure to engage in Bush’s flawed decision to fight. Having Cellucci admit his error in hindsight is of little consolation to those Canadians who are prone to distrust the American government. To them, not having an ambassador is a good thing; one less American on our soil.
My personal view is that, although hardly flattering to our national pride, not having an ambassador already in place isn’t particularly concerning. Given that the impact this position has over the average Canadian is negligible and understanding the methodology of selecting the candidate (party flunky pay-off position), it does not seem all that urgent a situation to rectify, either. The saddest part is that sending us these party payoff recipients who are ignorant of all things Canadian is not only insulting to Canadians but is against their own policies which dictate ambassadorial appointees must not be “purchased” through party work and all candidates must have a working knowledge of our country, including proficiency in both official languages.
On the plus side, however, without an ambassador in place, if they want to get hold of us, Barack will just have to pick up the phone and call Stephen himself. If that’s not evidence of them being *BFF’s, I don’t know what is.
*Best Friends Forever
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