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U.S. ambassador says embassy prepared for possible Liberal win

U.S ambassador to Canada, Bruce Heyman.

As U.S. President Barack Obama prepares to welcome Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for a state dinner next week, the American ambassador in Canada says the relationship with the new Canadian government is in good shape partly because the embassy planned for a possible Liberal government.

"Here we are with a new government and it has been really great, very refreshing, a lot of people with a lot of enthusiasm in each of the various departments, a can-do attitude," Bruce Heyman told a question-and-answer session in Vancouver on Friday.

"Problems don't seem so insurmountable that you can't deal with anything that's there," Mr. Heyman told members of the Pacific Chapter of the American Chamber of Commerce in Canada attending a breakfast meeting.

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Mr. Heyman did not say whether he was suggesting the new government was an improvement over the former Conservative government, defeated last October. Through a representative, the ambassador declined to take questions from the media.

The ambassador said he ordered this embassy to use last fall's election campaign as an opportunity to review all aspects of the Canada-U.S. relationship, preparing to deal with either a re-elected Conservative government or other possible outcomes.

"We were running drills within the embassy," Mr. Heyman said.

"The most important message I sent to everybody in the embassy was that when the new government comes in, the most important thing is we don't rush in and say, 'Here's what we've been working on for three months. Here's what we want.' But it was to listen and to ask what it was that this new government, whether re-elected or a brand new government, 'What are your goals and objectives? What would you like to get accomplished?'"

He said the review eventually extended into the U.S. government.

He also said that, as he reached out to all Canadian party leaders, he had an opportunity to develop a "very nice relationship" with Mr. Trudeau and his wife

"When he became prime minister, it wasn't about, 'Hello, I'm the U.S. ambassador, nice to meet you.' We already had a basis for a relationship and we could take that relationship of trust and a social relationship and serious conversations."

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Mr. Heyman said next Thursday's state dinner has been the culmination of a massive effort within the U.S. government.

"For the last several months, almost every department of the U.S. government has been meeting both internally and then inter-agency about what we can do with Canada," he said.

Mr. Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, will be welcomed in a ceremony on the south lawn of the White House next Thursday morning. After that, there will be a luncheon hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry. That evening, there's the dinner, attended by a maximum of 200 people.

"When you have a state dinner, it becomes almost a convening and forcing event to force the U.S government and whoever you're honoring to work together to try to announce deliverables."

He did not specify what might be announced, but urged the audience to "temper" their expectations. He said the dinner will reflect a productive, ongoing dialogue between the two countries.

Mr. Heyman said he expected Mr. Obama and Mr. Trudeau will have a number of private meetings amid the fanfare of the event, part of a three-day visit to Washington by the Trudeaus. "There's a lot of opportunities for these guys to scoot away between various events," he said.

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The ambassador quipped that a lot of people have been approaching him for tickets to the dinner "like I carry them in my pocket." He noted he does not.

On another note, Mr. Heyman , when asked about the ongoing U.S. primaries that have the Republicans and Democrats seeking presidential candidates, said there's an evident frustration among American voters over stagnating incomes, among other issues.

"People are looking for answers and sometimes they get convinced that short paths are easiest paths to create those answers," he said.

He said outsider candidates on the left and right have been elevated, including controversial tycoon Donald Trump.

Despite Mr. Trump's approach, "as radical as it may appear and as it is," Mr. Heyman said he has to "break into" a party that controls the House, Senate and two-thirds of the governorships and state legislatures. "To do that, you can't just be the same as everybody else."

However, he said the whole process is in its early days.

"It's just the beginning of March and we have a long ways to go until convention time."

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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