Bruce Heyman in search of the Canadian perspective

Bruce Heyman, the newly minted U.S. ambassador to Canada, says we cannot let one issue dominate the relationship between the two countries. By one issue, he means the Keystone XL pipeline, which he's been asked about repeatedly in the last three days.

U.S. ambassador says our relationship about more than just Keystone

U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman says trade and building our commercial relationship are priorities. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Bruce Heyman, the newly minted U.S. ambassador to Canada, says we cannot let one issue dominate the relationship between the two countries.

And by one issue, he means Keystone XL, the pipeline to carry Canadian oil to refineries and markets in the U.S. that has been making its way through various stages of approval in the U.S. for more than four years, without a decision being made.

Since assuming his duties as U.S. ambassador on Tuesday, Heyman, who takes up the post nine months after his predecessor David Jacobson saw the end of his term, has been asked repeatedly about Keystone.

He was asked about Keystone by reporters immediately after he presented his credentials on Tuesday. He also met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Tuesday and Keystone was likely on the agenda then. And he was asked again by CBC’s Amanda Lang in an interview to air Thursday at 7 p.m. ET on CBC’s The Lang & O’Leary Exchange.

“This is a huge relationship between our countries, at every level and I don’t think any one issue, even if it’s as large as this —  I’m not minimizing this issue, but I’m saying we have this very large relationship at every level of our two governments and we shouldn’t lose perspective,” Heyman said in reply to a question about Keystone.

'Process is underway' on Keystone

Heyman warned he has no inside knowledge of what President Barack Obama’s decision on the controversial pipeline might be.

“I have no news other than to tell you that the process is underway and a decision is forthcoming,” he said on Tuesday.

Heyman said he was “sensitive” to the importance of a Keystone decision in Canada.

“I definitely understand that this is an important issue for Canadians. In different parts of the country, the government level, the business level and some at the individual level.”

The new ambassador dropped by the CBC Broadcasting Centre in Toronto on Wednesday as part of an interview tour to introduce himself to the Canadian public. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“It’s also an important issue for Americans and Americans have voiced that opinion pretty loudly. We’ve had over two million comments brought in even during the environmental impact statement and then we’ve had an additional two million comments – nearly four million comments have come in – from Canadians and Americans,” he told CBC.

Heyman pointed to the breadth of the commercial relationship between Canada and the U.S. as well as our close diplomatic relationship, saying we go “arm in arm” on many issues.

While our trade relationship is huge, there appears to be little personal chemistry between Harper and Obama.  The two leaders have diverged on Middle Eastern policy and many of the trade issues of importance to Canada – including Keystone and funding for the new Windsor-Detroit bridge, appear to be stalled in the U.S.

Delay in confirmation of ambassador

Even the long delay in completing Heyman’s confirmation is seen as a bit of snub in Canada, though he is quick to smooth that over.

“It’s taken a little bit of time for me to go through the confirmation process but there was a side benefit to that. And that was I spent a fair bit of time at all levels of U.S. government having really in-depth conversations about the bilateral relationship,” Heyman said, adding that his priority now is understanding the Canadian perspective.

Heyman said he will focus on developing our long-standing relationship, with special attention to removing trade barriers with the aim of promoting growth and jobs.

“I’m not naive to think that I’ve got the magic answer to enhance our two economic outcomes,” Heyman said.

“But what I do have is desire, hard work, understanding of business and commerce, strong relationship with the commerce secretary, who the two of us have specifically talked about Canada as a priority and on driving outcomes.”

Heyman, a Chicago-based partner with Goldman Sachs, was a major fundraiser for Obama along with Penny Pritzker, now the commerce secretary.

One of the trade irritants between Canada and the U.S. has been intellectual property, which Heyman mentioned as a priority in his Senate hearing.

Heyman said it is an important issue, but he’s ready to hear Canada’s point of view about why its intellectual property laws lag those in the U.S.

“I have heard from senators who hear from their own constituents. I’ve heard from business leaders in the U.S. They have concerns here, but before I reach any definitive outcome of this is what we need to do and this is how we need to do it ...I’d like to understand where we are from a Canadian perspective,” he said.


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