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A bumpy patch for our ambassador to Canada?

Toronto Blue Jays fans celebrate Canada Day before the start of a game against the Milwaukee Brewers on July 1, 2014. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Seems it’s been a bit of a rough patch of late for our man in Ottawa, Bruce Heyman, a mega-bundler who formerly was with Goldman Sachs in Chicago. It began last month when the ambassador gave his first big speech at a think-tank dinner.

The speech, judging from the audience applause, went over quite well. But then came a Q&A with Canada’s former ambassador to Washington, Frank McKenna, who said he wanted to ask about some “irritants:” the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement; a Detroit area bridge connecting the two countries; and, of course, construction of the Keystone XL pipeline taking oil from Canada down to the Gulf Coast.

That part didn’t go well. Not at all. And it garnered Heyman a blistering attack in the Wall Street Journal and in the Canadian press, calling his comments an “egregious insult” and offensive. An attendee told us he found the remarks “patronizing” and “condescending.” (It should be noted that the Canadians, while unquestionably the nicest people on the planet, are quick to take offense when they perceive they are belittled by their southern neighbor.)

But Heyman had defenders in the Canadian press, with one columnist saying the attacks were way over the top, “cheap and personal.”

You can watch the Heyman-McKenna exchange here:

Canada 2020: Ambassador Bruce Heyman Q&A with Frank McKenna (Full) from Canada 2020 on Vimeo.


The best exchange came on the pipeline, with McKenna asking why, after five years, the project hadn’t been approved. So why the delay?

One reason, Heyman explained, is “we have received 3 million comments” on the “very emotional” issue, Heyman explained, “just since the beginning of this year” and “not all of them are even in English, and they have to be translated.  I don’t know if any of you have sat down but maybe tonight on your drive home you can think how long it would take to process each individual memo. We don’t have  memo reading departments (MRDs) in the State Department who are reading this.”

(Wait a minute. Wasn’t there a huge MRD, used to be on the fifth floor right below assistant secretary John Bolton’s office?)

We tweeted  Heyman asking if he wanted to reply to the Wall Street Journal column but got no response. We contacted the State Department on Wednesday and they responded Thursday with a statement strongly supporting him.

“Ambassador Heyman is right to assert that the relationship between the United States and Canada remains strong and immensely beneficial to both countries,” the department said. “Any relationship this large and important will have occasional differences of opinion, which we resolve through dialogue. It’s important that Canadians and Americans . . .  step back every so often to appreciate how together we have built the most successful political and economic relationship in the world.”

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.

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