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U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman speaks to the American Chamber of Commerce in Canada Pacific Chapter in Vancouver, Thursday.Darryl Dyck/The Globe and Mail

U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman says "challenges" are inevitable in the complex Canada-United States relationship, but is playing down suggestions of a chill showing up in his troubled first year as envoy in Canada as reported by The Globe and Mail.

"I would tell you that the relationship is large, complex. We're integrated at so many levels," Mr. Heyman said.

"But whenever you have a large relationship, whether it's countries or families or businesses, there are going to be some challenges that we will have to face along the way. That's not new between Canada and the U.S."

He added the relationship is "pretty good; it's outstanding – and I mean that from my heart."

The Globe reported this week that Mr. Heyman has had a rocky tenure since arriving in Ottawa last April. He has had only one 15-minute meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and initial meetings with Canadian cabinet ministers were sometimes testy. For months, senior government figures refused to see him at all. At the same time, relations with the United States grew frosty as disagreements over a range of issues, from pipelines to bridges, piled up.

Mr. Heyman was asked directly about this week's Globe report during an on-stage interview held at a Vancouver breakfast meeting of the Pacific Chapter of the American Chamber of Commerce in Canada attended by business leaders, former provincial cabinet ministers and members of the legislature.

But he did not specifically deal with the report's details and a spokesperson for the ambassador said he would not be available for comment to media covering the on-stage interview.

But on stage, the ambassador declared the two countries "best friends" with shared values, the world's largest unprotected border and an affinity for tackling global problems and building things together – an answer that drew a round of applause from the audience.

Mr. Heyman said there was little he could say about one key irritant – the proposed Keystone XL pipeline between the Alberta oil sands and Texas that has long been championed by Mr. Harper's government.

Last month, U.S. President Barack Obama vetoed a congressional bill authorizing the pipeline, saying the congressional action infringed on a "thorough consideration" of issues around the project.

Mr. Heyman acknowledged Keystone is "an emotional, important, significant issue for Canadians and for Americans," but added he could not prejudge an outcome on the fate of the pipeline because no decision has been made yet.

He characterized Mr. Obama's move as intended to head off a congressional effort to "usurp" the executive branch of the U.S. government.

"The executive branch continues that process, but we're much further along now," he said.

He said the U.S. state department will eventually make a decision on whether to approve Keystone, but he did not have a timeline to announce.

"It's clear to me and it's clear to the United States how important this issue is to the Canadian government. We don't, in any way, underestimate the importance of this to the Canadian government."

Mr. Heyman has been visiting British Columbia this week – his third trip to the province since he took up ambassadorial duties. The Tuesday-to-Friday agenda has consisted of events in the Lower Mainland.

During his Thursday breakfast, he touted the NEXUS program for preapproved, low-risk travellers entering Canada or the United States – "If you don't have a NEXUS card, go get a NEXUS card," he declared – and investment opportunities in the United States.

On Friday, Mr. Heyman heads to Washington for next week's SelectUSA Investment Summit – a gathering aimed at promoting foreign investment in the United States.