Kirsten Hillman officially named Canadian ambassador to the United States

Kirsten Hillman, the woman now serving as Canada’s acting ambassador to the United States, has been given the permanent job as the Trudeau government's top person in Washington.

The acting ambassador has been serving in the role since last fall

Kirsten Hillman, right, pictured with then foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland, second from right, has been serving as the acting ambassador to the United States and has now officially been given the job. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Kirsten Hillman, the woman now serving as Canada's acting ambassador to the United States, has been given the permanent job as the Trudeau government's top person in Washington.

The word comes after months of speculation that the former trade negotiator would be appointed to the position, making her the first woman ever to serve in the role.

Hillman is widely respected in both Liberal and Conservative circles for her track record as a negotiator. 

Under the previous Conservative government, she served as chief negotiator on Canada's Trans Pacific Partnership team.

Hillman also played a leading role in Canada's NAFTA negotiations under the Trudeau government.

In a news release making the appointment official, Trudeau said Hillman demonstrated an ability to stand up for Canadians and fight for their interests during those negotiations.

"She combines exceptional knowledge and skills, and is a gifted diplomat," he said. "Ms. Hillman will remain a trusted adviser, friend and counsellor in Washington and is our point person with Congress and the U.S. administration. I know that Canadians will be well represented by her."

Her appointment also drew heavy praise from Conservatives who worked with her during the Stephen Harper government.

Former trade advisers to Harper who worked with Hillman on the original Trans-Pacific Partnership tweeted their congratulations.

Meredith Lilly called her an exceptional talent. Andrea van Vugt called her nomination a perfect choice.

"My friend has made history and the Trudeau government made it possible. There's no one better. I'm just thrilled for her," tweeted van Vugt, a Harper trade adviser. "It's so good to see amazing people be recognized."

The position is seen as the most important foreign diplomatic posting in the Canadian public service, given how crucial the Canada-U.S. relationship is to the Canadian economy.

That relationship has faced significant challenges since the election of President Donald Trump in 2016.

In addition to his demand that NAFTA be renegotiated, his administration has made significant policy decisions or changes that have had an impact on Canada — without giving Ottawa any advance notice.

Canada was not given a heads-up earlier this month that Trump was announcing a travel ban for certain passengers from Europe over the COVID-19 outbreak.

In January, senior Canadian government officials were frustrated by the Trump administration's decision to keep Canada in the dark about an American drone strike in Iraq that killed a top Iranian general. Canada has hundred of troops in the region and works closely with the United States military.

The Trudeau government has gone out of its way to avoid angering Trump, who is prone to emotional reactions when crossed.

The previous ambassador, David MacNaughton — who left public life last fall — told cabinet members to avoid publicly criticizing the president.

Hillman steps into the role as Ottawa and Washington are working together to manage the pandemic crisis.

Both countries mutually agreed to restrict traffic at the border, announcing a 30 day ban on non-essential travel.

Maintaining that border flow will be a priority for Hillman, since Canada relies heavily on the integrated supply chains that bring essential goods into the country every day. A possible move by the U.S. to send troops to the border may complicate that effort.

A source told CBC News the White House is looking at placing 1,000 troops about 25 kilometres from the 8,891 kilometre-long border and using remote sensors to look out for irregular border-crossers.

"This kind of potential move by the United States I don't think is necessary," Hillman told CBC News Network's Power & Politics. "I don't think it's helpful. It sends the message that there's a problem with the border, which there most certainly is not."

Hillman said she has been discussing the proposal with the Trump administration for "a couple of days" now and has been making the point that it is not "helpful" or "necessary."



Katie Simpson is a foreign correspondent with CBC News based in Washington. Prior to joining the team in D.C. she spent six years covering Parliament Hill in Ottawa and nearly a decade covering local and provincial issues in Toronto.


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