The Opposition says it wants Canada's ambassador to Washington to step down while the government investigates how damaging details of a private meeting between Barack Obama's adviser and Canadian officials were made public.


Michael Wilson, Canadian ambassador to the United States, speaks at a luncheon in Toronto on Jan. 22, 2007. ((Aaron Harris/Canadian Press))

Michael Wilson is moving toward the centre of the so-called NAFTA-gate scandal after admitting he spoke with CTV journalist Tom Clark the night before the network broadcast a report alleging an Obama official told Canada the Democratic presidential hopeful's threat to pan the North American Free Trade Agreement was only political rhetoric.

Obama's rival, Hillary Clinton, used the report as apparent evidence of what she said was hypocrisy and double-talking on Obama's part. One of her aides said the leaked information may have propelled Clinton's victory in the Ohio primary contest.

Liberal MP Navdeep Bains led the charge for Wilson's removal Wednesday during question period, saying the leak amounted to political interference.

"It seems our current ambassador Michael Wilson forgot the first rule of diplomacy — know when to keep your mouth shut. By leaking confidential conversations to the media, Michael Wilson directly interfered in the American Democratic primary," he said.

"Will the prime minister bring Michael Wilson back from Washington before he causes another incident?"

A finance minister under former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney, Wilson issued a statement Monday saying "all conversations I have on background with journalists are private," according to the Toronto Star.

Clark has also admitted to speaking with the U.S. ambassador, but both are refusing to comment on what their conversation was about.

The Conservatives have not indicated whether a probe of the leak, to be conducted by the director of security operations at the Privy Council, will include an investigation into Wilson's possible role in the matter.

"We are taking this matter very seriously and that is why, Mr. Speaker, that the clerk of the Privy Council is doing an investigation right now," Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier told the Commons on Wednesday.

"And what we're doing is being a responsible government and we're going to go to the bottom of this investigation."

Bains also demanded to know whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff, Ian Brodie, would be included in the probe.

Brodie has been accused of being the first to leak the sensitive information to CTV journalists on Feb. 26, allegedly telling them that campaign officials of both candidates had told Canadian officials their statements about renegotiating the treaty shouldn't be taken seriously.

The following day — and after the conversation between Wilson and Clark — CTV's report only named Obama, whose team initially denied the charge. However, a leaked memo outlining a Feb. 8 meeting between one of Obama's economic advisers, Austan Goolsbee, and officials at Canada's consulate in Chicago, corroborated the story.

Obama's campaign said the memo, which said Goolsbee reassured Canadian consular staff that the NAFTA comments were to be seen as "more reflective of political manoeuvring than policy," mischaracterized the meeting.

The Canadian embassy in Washington subsequently issued a statement saying it never meant to convey that Obama's team was taking a different position on NAFTA in public than it did in private, and apologized for any "interference" the memo may have implied.

Both Clinton and the Prime Minister's Office have denied that her team briefed Canadian officials on NAFTA, while Brodie says he can't recall exactly what he told journalists.

With files from the Canadian Press