Skip to main content
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track on the Olympic Games
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track onthe Olympics Games
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

File photo of U.S. ambassador to Canada David Jacobson.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Politics Insider delivers premium analysis and access to Canada's policymakers and politicians. Visit the Politics Insider homepage for insight available only to subscribers.

The next U.S. ambassador to Canada is likely to find settling in to the job a little rougher than most of his predecessors. Pipeline politics could be the snag in a usually smooth confirmation.

The Keystone XL pipeline has become a symbolic environment-versus-economy debate in Washington, and Republicans are likely to at least give the next envoy a good grilling in the Senate confirmation hearings, and possibly delay it to press U.S. President Barack Obama to decide whether it will go ahead.

Story continues below advertisement

Washington usually doesn't muster a passing glance to issues in Canada, but Keystone XL is serious politics: the State department's review has sparked an unprecedented 1.2 million public comments, the Congress is debating a (probably doomed) bill to take the decision away from the White House, and lobbyists on both sides are spilling millions to fight the battle.

Mr. Obama hasn't yet nominated a successor to current ambassador David Jacobson, who leaves the embassy July 15 to take a new post as vice-chair of the Bank of Montreal.

But the name of the man being vetted for the job has already leaked: he's Bruce Heyman, a Goldman Sachs executive from Chicago, who, like Mr. Jacobson, was an Obama campaign fundraiser. He's one of the few top investment bankers, especially from Goldman, who stuck with Mr. Obama in 2012, and his wife, Vicki, worked on the U.S. President's Illinois campaign.

The ambassadorship in Ottawa is considered a plum gig, not as high-profile as London or Paris, perhaps, but still laden with important files in a friendly country and topped off with perks like a palatial residence and private chef.

But this time it's more than possible that it comes with the less lovely task of facing stonewalling Republican senators demanding to know whether Mr. Obama will approve Keystone XL, and when.

It's an easier issue for Republicans, who are generally united on the pro-XL side, and argue it is, as Mitt Romney said, a "no-brainer" that's good for energy independence, the economy, and jobs.

The Democrats, however, are divided, and the hearings provide Republicans an opportunity to make their opponents squirm. Environmentalists, largely pro-Democrat, have made Keystone a symbol for the oil sands, and the oil sands a symbol for climate change. But many Democrats want to approve it, for energy independence and jobs, including a lot of labour unions. "Their base is pretty well split," said former U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins, a Republican.

Story continues below advertisement

The Democrats have the majority in the Senate, but that doesn't mean Mr. Heyman – presuming his nomination goes ahead – will sail through confirmation hearings. One senator alone can delay it for a while, and 45 Republicans can hold it up for a good long time. At the very least, Mr. Heyman can expect to be bombarded by sharp questions.

Whether that will mushroom into more is unclear. Mr. Wilkins noted that everyone knows that the ambassadorial nominee won't be making the decision on Keystone. But of course, he will be the administration's representative in the Senate hot seat.

Mr. Wilkins noted he went to his confirmation hearings prepared for questions on softwood lumber and border blockages and Mad Cow disease, but got only general questions – but those were bigger issues for Canada than the U.S. Congress. "This [Keystone] is percolating on the Hill a lot more," he said.

Mr. Heyman's task, like any nominee for such a post, is "to make no news," he said. And the Obama administration and Secretary of State John Kerry have deflected questions by repeating there is a "process" for approval – a review then an "national-interest determination" – that takes time. One thing is certain, said Mr. Wilkins, is that if he gets a grilling, the nominee "will be prepared for it."

Campbell Clark covers foreign affairs in Ottawa.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies