Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will not attend the inauguration of president-elect Donald Trump, his office says, so he can refocus his energies on a cross-country tour to take the pulse of Canadians as he enters the second year of the Liberal mandate.
The meet-the-people tour comes after Mr. Trudeau has been heavily criticized in Parliament for unethical fundraisers, where well-heeled Canadians pay $1,500 to spend time with the Prime Minister in the private homes of wealthy donors.
"Trudeau's handlers are finding they are getting out of sync with Canadians," NDP MP Charlie Angus told The Globe and Mail. "The cash-for-access fundraisers sent a message day after day in the fall that if you wanted to talk to the Prime Minister, you had to pay $1,500. So this is all show. This is damage control 101.
The first leg of the Trudeau tour starts at the end of next week when he plans to travel along Highway 401 from Ottawa to London, followed by stops in British Columbia, Quebec, the Prairies and Atlantic Canada.
The Prime Minister's Office said Mr. Trudeau will be too busy engaging "directly with Canadians" to travel to Washington to witness the swearing-in of Mr. Trump, who has said reopening the North American free-trade deal will be one of his first actions upon entering the White House.
Mr. Trudeau will send a high-level delegation to the Trump inauguration on Jan. 20, but the details of who will be representing Canada have not yet been worked out, an official in the PMO said Friday.
"He is not going to the inauguration but there will be a Canadian delegation," said press secretary Cameron Ahmad.
Mr. Trudeau also suddenly pulled out of a planned three-day trip to the ritzy Swiss ski resort of Davos to attend the World Economic Forum, an invitation-only event for world leaders, business tycoons and celebrities.
The trip was planned for Jan. 17 to 20, followed by a cabinet retreat in Alberta.
Mr. Ahmad said Mr. Trudeau wished to spend the extra time travelling to five provinces where he plans to hold town halls and meet Canadians in coffee shops and shopping malls. He insisted the decision to drop out of the Davos trip had nothing to do with possible negative reaction from Canadians about seeing him hobnobbing with the global elite.
"The real honest explanation for it is the need to spend more time on this tour because we really want to do a more exhaustive tour. For example, he might hit four different communities in four days and we want to make it as substantial as possible and hit as many communities as possible," Mr. Ahmad said.
Mr. Trudeau is expected to use the tour as an opportunity to hear from Canadians about what they would like to see in the federal budget, which is expected in late February or March.
Although there are rumours in Ottawa of a possible cabinet shuffle before Parliament returns on Jan. 30, Mr. Ahmad dismissed such speculation.
"I don't think that is anything we are focusing on right now," he said.
The cabinet retreat, scheduled for Jan. 23-24, is expected to focus on the coming federal budget and how to respond to the Trump administration's protectionist policies.
There is no word yet on who Mr. Trump may pick to serve as his envoy to Canada, but the position will be of key importance given the president-elect's determination to reopen NAFTA.
The U.S. ambassador to Canada, Bruce Heyman, confirmed Friday that he will resign and leave the country on the day that Mr.Trump is sworn in as President.
The Trump transition team had issued an order requiring all of President Barack Obama's politically appointed envoys to leave their posts by Inauguration Day.
"As requested, I have resigned as U.S. ambassador to Canada effective 1/20," Mr. Heyman wrote in a tweet. "I will depart on or around that date."
Mr. Heyman, who was a senior executive at Goldman Sachs in Chicago, was named ambassador to Canada in April, 2014.
One of Mr. Heyman's key achievements was a preclearance deal that simplified the movement of goods and people, something that has frustrated commerce and travellers since the 9/11 attacks, while also maintaining security.
It is standard practice for incoming U.S. presidents to require political appointees to step aside, particularly when they are from different political parties.
However, it can lead to a months-long delay before a new American ambassador ends up in Ottawa because of the Senate confirmation process.