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Politics Obama's pick for ambassador to Canada faces Senate grilling

The U.S. embassy in Ottawa, shown in April, 2008.

TOM HANSON/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canada can expect increased pressure from the next U.S. ambassador to Ottawa on the vexed issue of imposing tougher intellectual rights protections.

"I know the Canadians are working harder to try and do better in this area," Bruce Heyman, President Barack Obama's pick as the next U.S. envoy to Ottawa, said on Wednesday. But he made clear that the pressure will not ease. In replies to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is considering his nomination, Mr. Heyman said: "I will take this issue to the Canadian government and I will make this issue an important issue."

Washington has been urging Ottawa, both bilaterally and in negotiations for the multilateral Trans Pacific Partnership, to impose tougher rules protecting intellectual property.

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Mr. Heyman said "expanding our economic footprint" will be his priority in Canada-U.S. relations, but warned that "unless we have the intellectual property protections for our companies, it will make it will make it incredibly difficult to expand those relationships."

He allowed that the Canadian government has made some progress recently in passing legislation with further protections for intellectual property, but said more is needed.

Adam Taylor, a spokesman for International Trade Minister Ed Fast, said the Canadian government recognizes that rules to protect intellectual property are needed "to foster an environment that promotes innovation, attracts new investment, and stimulates economic growth."

He added: "At the same time, Canada is committed to ensuring that its intellectual property regime balances the interests of both right-holders and users."

Mr. Heyman's relatively brief appearance – including fewer than half-a-dozen questions – suggests he will have little difficulty winning the backing of the committee. The full Senate will then consider his nomination and it could be approved before the holiday break.

Mr. Heyman was quick to duck when asked for his views on the most controversial issue of the bilateral relationship – the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline.

He said he had no position.

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"There's a process under way at the State Department and when that process is completed, I think that I will be the person on the ground that will be communicating with the Canadians that decision," he said.

A resolution on Keystone XL, considered vital to the expansion of the vast Alberta oil sands, may be months away. Mr. Obama has repeatedly kicked the politically sensitive decision down the road as domestic opposition has grown, especially from environmental activists, who claim it would lead to massive increases in carbon emissions by boosting development of the oil sands.

In his opening remarks to the Foreign Relations Committee hearings, Mr. Heyman spoke of the close ties between Canada and the United States, and said his wife's family demonstrates the links between the nations.

"I can look to our own family as an example," he said, adding: "Vicki's great-grandparents with her grandfather and siblings emigrated to Canada through Quebec. The family made Toronto their home while Vicki's grandfather continued on to the United States."

It has been widely known for months that Mr. Heyman, a Chicago-based investment banker at Goldman Sachs, was the President's choice to succeed David Jacobson, the U.S. ambassador to Canada since 2009. Both were major fundraisers for Mr. Obama.

Asked about whether Canada's recently expanded claim to undersea territory in the Arctic and Russia's previous and overlapping claims posed a problem for the United States, Mr. Heyman said the country has its own mapping process under way.

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"It's natural to assume that there may be overlap and maybe even multiple countries thinking that the same territory is theirs," he said. "We'll have to go through an adjudication process."

His brief hearing ended on a lighthearted note with a question about Santa Claus.

"NORAD tracks Santa Claus when he takes off and it is with joint Canadian and U.S. participation that we will secure Santa Claus's protection," he said.

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