July 4th guest list shrinks as tariff tensions grow

As the normally warm Canada-U.S. relationship continues to cool amid the ongoing trade standoff, this year's Fourth of July party at the new American ambassador's official residence in Ottawa will be a smaller, more "traditional" affair, according to a former U.S. embassy staffer.

About 1,000 invited to 1st fete under new U.S. ambassador

The annual party is held at Lornado, the official residence of the U.S. ambassador to Canada. The event usually attracts thousands of people from Ottawa's political circles. (Chris Rands/CBC)

As the normally warm Canada-U.S. relationship continues to cool amid the ongoing trade standoff, this year's Fourth of July party at the new American ambassador's official residence in Ottawa will be a smaller, more "traditional" affair, according to a former U.S. embassy staffer.

The annual party, long a highlight of Ottawa's summertime social circuit, coincides with American Independence Day, a national holiday south of border.

However this year's party — the first thrown by Ambassador Kelly Knight Craft — has already generated controversy when some invitees, including Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, announced they'd boycott the event over the U.S. tariffs on Canadian exports such as steel and aluminum.

Mayor Jim Watson says he won't be attending the U.S. Ambassador's Fourth of July party because he's not happy with the direction of the American government. 0:28

"I've politely declined [the invitation] because I'm not happy with the direction of the American government and their constant attacks on our country," Watson said last week.

Guest list trimmed

Under Craft's Obama-era predecessor, Bruce Heyman, the guest list to the annual event grew to more than 4,000 people. This year the number of invitees has shrunk to an estimated 1,000 people.

"[The Heymans] opened their arms to the entirety of Ottawa," former embassy staffer Sarah Goldfeder told CBC's Ottawa Morning. "The fact that [Craft] would trim it down and make it a more modest list is probably appropriate for the tone of the relationship at this time."

Craft did not host the party last year because she had not yet been confirmed in her role. 

"Every ambassador changes the mood to suit their own personality," said Goldfeder, who had a hand in planning past Fourth of July parties.
Sarah Goldfeder is a former U.S. diplomat who helped plan past Fourth of July parties in Ottawa. (Darren Major/CBC)

Growing boycott

As for the mayor's snub, Goldfeder said that's his prerogative. 

"It's Mayor Watson's decision and I think he has articulated quite eloquently why he's chosen to do this," Goldfeder said, noting other key figures are still expected to attend.

Ottawa-area MP Andrew Leslie, the government's parliamentary secretary for U.S.-Canada relations, is scheduled to attend, as is Conservative defence critic James Bezan.

But other notable invitees including federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and interim Ontario Liberal leader John Fraser have also declined their invitations.

"It's a choice to either present your opposition to the administration's policies by not showing, or by engaging in attempting to change minds," Goldfeder said.

But Goldfeder said even the limited boycott is showing Americans a side of their Canadian neighbours they rarely see.

"There should be a little bit of push back when your southern neighbour gets a little assertive."

Ottawa's mayor loves to see and be seen in this city. But one place you will not see him : the U.S. Ambassador's Fourth of July party tomorrow. Is skipping the party an effective way to protest? Or is Watson missing a chance to try some garden party diplomacy? We ask a former US diplomat. 7:08

With files from the Canadian Press